Nonprofit organizations involved in the Mardi Gras celebration are already shielded from liability in the event that a float rider or parade observer is killed and survivors seek to bring a wrongful death action.
The same is not true for for-profit float builders, despite the recent attempt of Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, to pass a bill that would grant them the same rights and protections afforded nonprofit groups. Although Arnold’s bill passed the Louisiana House of Representatives by a 73-21 margin, it failed to get beyond the state’s Senate Judiciary “A” Committee, thus curtailing a full debate and any potential for passage.
Arnold stated that the bill was focused on stopping frivolous lawsuits and simply granting the same protections to all float builders, regardless of their legal status. The bill would have required a plaintiff seeking to establish liability in a wrongful death suit to prove gross negligence or a deliberate act by a manufacturer or lessee.
Opponents questioned Arnold’s motives in authoring the bill, which he sponsored on behalf of Blaine Kern Studios, a for-profit float builder. That company is presently involved in a wrongful death suit brought by the wife of Jody Compretta, a Mardi Gras attendee who was killed while riding on a float during the 2008 carnival. Arnold readily acknowledges the sponsorship, but denies an improper purpose, stating that the proposed legislation was not retroactive and would not have had any effect on the action now pending.
Jonathan Compretta, a Mississippi lawyer and brother of Jody Compretta, says that changing the required proof standard would undermine public safety, given the increased difficulty of holding manufacturers accountable. Compretta states that the threat of a lawsuit is what spurs float makers to focus on adequate safety precautions.
Related Resource: Bloomberg Business Week “La. Senate nixes float-builder liability exemption” June 8, 2010