Summary Review of Court Systems -


1. Structure of Civil Courts

Louisiana is a “mixed jurisdiction” state that operates under both legal traditions of common law and civil law. Although Louisiana has the reputation of its iteration of the Napoleonic Code, whose articles undoubtedly derive from Roman civil law roots, much of the modern daily practice of law depends on case law and judicial interpretation common to all other 49 states in the union. Nevertheless, many influential case law rulings are subsequently re-written to be passed by the legislature and codified in the Louisiana Civil Code.

The Louisiana court system is structured as follows, listed from court of highest level of review to the lowest: the Louisiana Supreme Court, five Circuit Courts of Appeal, 43 district courts, several family/juvenile courts, 46 city courts and three parish courts. The jurisdiction of appellate review extends to all civil and criminal cases.

2. Basis of Jurisdiction

The district courts are Louisiana’s trial courts of general jurisdiction and have original jurisdiction over civil disputes other than Workers’ Compensation claims.

City courts have jurisdiction but their jurisdiction is limited to the amount in controversy. The jurisdictional limits for the city courts range from $15,000 to $50,000 as set forth in the Code of Civil Procedure. There are limits to the jurisdiction of city courts in suits for eviction depending on the amount in controversy. Louisiana’s three parish courts are distinguishable from some city courts in that they are always staffed by full-time judges. Some city courts have full-time judges and some don’t. Furthermore, the subject matter jurisdiction of parish courts is limited to cases where the amount in controversy does not exceed $20,000. Also, it is important to note that the many city and parish courts have varying local rules. Historically, most Louisiana city and parish courts have not been favorable to civil defendants. Cases are appealable from the parish courts and all but one city court directly to the courts of appeal.

3. Workers’ Compensation

The legislature established a system of special courts of original jurisdiction to decide workers’ compensation disputes. Judgments by those courts are appealable to the courts of appeal.

4. Commercial Courts

Louisiana has not established specialized commercial courts.

5. Mediation

Louisiana law supports and encourages the use of mediation to promote settlement of legal disputes. See the Louisiana Mediation Act, La. R.S. 9:4101, et seq. Either party in most any civil dispute, with the exception of family violence and child custody cases, may move to refer the matter to mediation. The non-moving party has 15 days to make formal objection and have the mediation order rescinded. La. R.S. 9:4103.

The cost of mediation shall be agreed to in writing by the parties and the mediator prior to commencing mediation; default costs will be shared equally by the parties and taxed as court costs. La. R.S. 9:4109. Confidentiality does not generally extend to statements, materials, tangible evidence, or communications that would otherwise be subject to discovery or admissible. La. R.S. 9:4112.

6. Pitfalls for the Unwary

Along with the “mixed jurisdiction” traditions that distinguish Louisiana’s legal system from those in other states, potential foreign litigants may be interested in other aspects of the law unique to the state.

First, the statutes of limitations, or prescriptive periods, are critical to all potential litigants. Louisiana espouses varying prescriptive periods for raising claims, all subject to the codified limitations, many of which have changed over the past decade. Claims against insurers, depending on the type of insurance, have different statutes of limitation. Although the general rule for bringing a claim for injury or property damage is 1 year, there are also 2-year, 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year statutes of limitation depending on the circumstances and types of claims. See, e.g., La. C. C. arts. 3492, et seq., and, e.g., La. R.S. 9:5604, et seq. Note that the 10-year rule for personal actions does not apply to insurance companies. La. C. C. art. 3499. The prescriptive period for bringing an action on an open account is 3 years. La. C. C. art. 3494. The term “open account” is broadly interpreted and a prevailing creditor who complies with the statute can be awarded attorney fees. La. R.S. 9:2781.
Another area of Louisiana law that commonly surprises foreign businesses and lawyers is related to the state’s noncompetition statute. La. R.S. 23:921. Courts will not enforce overly broad non-compete agreements, nor statewide prohibitions. For example, Louisiana limits valid and enforceable non-compete agreements both temporally, a maximum of 2 years, and geographically, requiring the agreement to particularly describe the parishes and municipalities specific to the prohibition.

Also, the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act prohibits a myriad of deceptive trade practices that courts determine on a case-by-case basis by the trier of fact. See La. R.S. 51:1401, et seq. If the jury finds that a business in fact violated the Unfair Trade Practices Act, and did so after notice of the claim was provided by the Louisiana Attorney General, then the plaintiff “shall” be awarded attorney fees, costs, and treble damages, meaning the award will be tripled.

In July of 2020, the Civil Justice Reform Act was enacted. Pertinent provisions include the following:

Jury threshold: $10,000 jury threshold for all matters as opposed to the current $50,000.

Evidence of Insurance: The legislation forbids mentioning the defendant driver’s insurance company and policy except at the beginning and end of the trial. However, the legislation fails to repeal La. R.S. 22:1269, the direct action statute, which still gives an injured party a right of action against an alleged tortfeasor’s liability insurer.

Collateral Source: The legislation changes the judicially created collateral source rule and now limits a plaintiff’s ability to recover medical damages to the amount actually paid plus any co-pay or deductible rather than the amount billed. After a verdict is rendered, the trial judge is also required to award the plaintiff forty percent of the difference between the amount billed and the amount actually paid unless a defendant can prove such an award is unreasonable.

Despite these purported limits on the actual recovery of medical damages, the jury will still be informed of the amount billed for the medical services as opposed to the amount actually paid. This means that a jury may still award greater general damages based on the amount the plaintiff was billed for medical services even if the cost of the medical services was in reality much less.

Collateral Source (Worker’s Compensation): In cases where the injured party’s medical expenses are paid pursuant to the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Law, the injured party’s recovery of medical expenses is limited to the amount payable under the medical payments fee schedule of Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Law. This rule was recently judicially created in Simmons v. Cornerstone Investments, LLC et al, 2018-0735 (La. 05/08/19), but this bill’s passage would codify the law.