So, There’s a Louisiana Law About Throwing Coconuts.

There are several instances of litigation where New Orleans Carnival attendees have sued for damages after being injured by flying produce.

Mardi Gras festivities are a tradition in the state of Louisiana, but did you know that there are special legal codes that were written specifically for the Carnival parades? Believe it or not, flying fruits and vegetables at the parades are a substantial legal concern during this special holiday.

Specifically, the issue is one of liability. Louisiana Revised Statute 9:2796, Section B states that “any person who is attending or participating in one of the organized parades… assumes the risk of being struck by any missile whatsoever which has been traditionally thrown, tossed, or hurled by members of the krewe or organization in such parades… The items shall include but are not limited to beads, cups, coconuts, and doubloons unless said loss or damage was caused by the deliberate and wanton act or gross negligence of said krewe or organization.”

If you’re wondering if you read that section correctly, yes, the statute does indicate that Carnival attendees assume the risk of being struck by airborne coconuts. This may be the only legal situation in the United States where the airspeed velocity of a coconut might actually enter into official evidence.

There are several instances of litigation where New Orleans Carnival attendees have sued for damages after being injured by flying produce. Two of the more noteworthy cases are Schell v. Insurance Group, Inc. and Brown v. Lee.

OF CABBAGES AND COCONUTS

In Schell v. Insurance Group, Inc. [2000], the plaintiff sued the Louisiana Irish-Italian Association, its insurance agency, and an anonymous woman who had been riding on a Carnival float sponsored by the Irish-Italian Association. Mr. Schell was watching the Mardi Gras parade when he was struck in the face by a Blow Pop lollipop that had allegedly been thrown by the woman on the float, injuring his lip and tooth. While he was tending to his injured lip, the woman then allegedly threw a large cabbage from the float, which struck him in the face again, severely injuring his lip and teeth.

The situation was somewhat similar in Brown v. Lee [2006]. The plaintiff sued the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, their insurance agency, and Mr. Lee, a rider on the Zulu Club’s float. While Ms. Brown was watching the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, Mr. Lee allegedly hurled a coconut at her in an overhand manner as the float turned a corner. Ms. Brown was struck in the face, knocked unconscious, and had to be hospitalized for a broken eye socket.

In both cases, the district court initially found that the defendants were not liable, per R.S. 9:2796, as the statute states that parade attendees assume the risk of being struck by flying objects. The plaintiffs then appealed in both cases. The issue considered by the Court of Appeals was whether the defendants met the qualifications laid out in the statute concerning “gross negligence,” which was defined as “want of even slight care and diligence.” The defendants would be liable for damages only if they were found to have been grossly negligent.

SAME ACT, OPPOSITE VERDICTS

Although at first glance these two cases may appear to be quite similar, the court found differently in each case. In Brown v. Lee, the Court of Appeal considered the Zulu organization’s internal rule that float riders should only hand out coconuts, never throw them. Because Mr. Lee was acquainted with Ms. Brown and allegedly hurled the coconut at her intentionally over a considerable distance in contravention of his association’s instructions, the court considered the allegations against Mr. Lee to be the “very definition of ‘gross negligence.’” Accordingly, the court reversed the prior judgment that had been in his favor and remanded the case for trial.

In Schell v. Insurance Group, Inc., however, the result was different. The Court of Appeal again considered the sponsoring organization’s internal rules. Like the Zulu Club, the Irish-Italian Association had a regulation specifically advising participants not to throw vegetables like cabbages or potatoes. Although Mr. Schell’s assailant had allegedly done so in contravention of the organization’s rules, her identity remained unknown. As the Irish-Italian Association had been diligent in outlining regulations against this behavior, the court found that the organization had not been grossly negligent, despite the actions of the anonymous float rider. In this instance, the court affirmed the previous judgment in favor of the organization and their insurance agency.

Mardi Gras fell on Tuesday, February 13th this year. (Hopefully you held on to that football helmet after the Super Bowl if you were headed down to the Big Easy to celebrate.) We hope you had a happy (and safe) Mardi Gras!

The attorneys at Gillespie, Shields, Durrant & Goldfarb are experts in family, business and employment law. They are a fixture of the community and serve the Phoenix and Mesa areas. Schedule your consultation today at www.YourAZLawFirm.com.

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