Big Bag of Beads – New Orleans Krewe Not Liable for Injury to Parade Attendee (LA)

by

Citron v. Gentilly Carnival Club Inc. (Louisiana)

The plaintiff was a long time member the defendant Endymion Krewe, a carnival organization that hosted parades and events in New Orleans.  Her and her husband attended a parade and extravaganza event hosted by Endymion.  When the parade was making its loop through the Superdome, plaintiff was hit in the head by a bag of beads.  She received first aid treatment on site, and was then transported to a local hospital.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the Endymion Krewe, alleging that it was liable both in its capacity as a organization and vicariously for its krewe member’s actions.  Plaintiff alleged that her injuries were caused by the “deliberate and wanton act or gross negligence” of the defendant, and that the defendant “willfully and knowingly permit its members to throw full bags of beads overhand in a space where people are seated, eating and enjoying musical entertainment.”  Plaintiff also asserted that because the defendant required its float “riders to be masked making identification of the individual tortfeasor impossible,” the defendant “must be liable for the conduct of its members.”

Defendant argued that each member of the Endymion Krewe received two tickets to enter into the subject extravaganza, and the tickets had a limitation of liability and assumption of risk printed on the back.  Defendant also asserted the affirmative defenses of comparative fault on the part of plaintiff (or third parties) and immunity for liability under the Mardi Gras immunity statute (La. R.S. 9:2796).  The statute, which was first enacted in 1979 to help control rising insurance costs for parading organizations, provides broad immunity for krewes that sponsor parades, and it provides that anyone who attends such a parade “assumes the risk of being struck by any missile whatsoever which has been traditionally thrown, tossed or hurled by members.”  The krewe bears the initial burden of providing evidence to establish its right to immunity under the statute.  Once established, the burden then shifts to the claimant to establish that the krewe engaged in gross negligence (an exception to the immunity).

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment which was granted by the trial court, and the plaintiff appealed.  On appeal, the Court of Appeal of Louisiana affirmed the trial court’s ruling.  Referring to two prior Louisiana decisions dealing with the liability of krewes and their members in connection with items thrown from parade floats, the Court stated that “there were several factors that were considered by the court of appeal as potentially establishing gross negligence.” Those factors included: “(i) the weight of the object thrown, (ii) the distance the object was thrown, and (iii) the manner in which the object was thrown.”  Plaintiff argued that the extreme weight of the bag of beads and the manner and distance that it was thrown created a genuine issue of material fact.  However, the Court disagreed, finding that the plaintiff’s allegations “lacked evidentiary basis.”  Unable to present adequate evidence in that regard, the Court concluded that the plaintiff was “unable to prove that the Endymion Krewe, as an organization, acted in a grossly negligent manner.”

Plaintiff also argued that the defendant was grossly negligent by failing to take steps to prohibit its members from throwing bags of beads during their events.  However, the defendant presented evidence to show that it did, in fact, prohibit “its members from throwing any object at parade viewers and that it instructed its riders to throw objects ‘to’ not ‘at’ parade viewers.”  The Court indicated that in light of those facts, the defendant, “at the very least, exercised slight care, regard and diligence for the safety of its parade viewers,” such that it could not be found to be grossly negligent.

With regard to plaintiff’s argument that the defendant should be vicariously liable for its krewe member’s conduct, the Court also disagreed.  The court explained that:

“No substantive authority exists to impose vicarious liability on a carnival krewe or organization for its members’ acts.  To the contrary, the jurisprudence has rejected the argument that a krewe is vicariously liable for its members’ acts.”

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