Frequently Asked Questions on Personal Injury and Criminal Law in Louisiana

The law office of Baton Rouge attorney John Jewell Pace provides the following answers to questions frequently encountered as we advise and represent people throughout the state of Louisiana in areas of personal injury from auto accidents to mass torts and class actions, as well as DWI and other criminal defense. If you have other questions or need advice and representation regarding a particular legal matter, please contact the law offices of John Jewell Pace for a consultation.

What is the difference between a Mass Tort and a Class Action?
AIn mass tort litigation, one attorney or one group of attorneys is representing a diverse set of plaintiffs who were all injured by the same defective product or dangerous drug, even though they may have different types of injuries requiring different amounts of compensation. Since the defendants and the basic facts are basically the same, a Mass Tort action allows the plaintiffs to pool their resources and share information so they can litigate effectively against massive corporate defendants such as those in the automobile manufacturing or pharmaceutical industry.

In a Class Action, all of the plaintiffs are more similarly situated, meaning they have suffered the same type of harm and have been harmed more or less to the same degree. A Class Action lawsuit involves certification of the class by the court, which also appoints a lead plaintiff and lead counsel to represent the interests of all the members of the class. Class members generally have an opportunity to opt out of the litigation, and if they don’t, they are bound to accept the settlement or verdict and cannot sue individually, which may be an issue if their particular injuries are far greater than most other members of the class.

What do I do if I have been in a car accident?
AOf course, your first concern should be for the safety of yourself and others. If there are serious injuries requiring emergency medical attention, don’t hesitate to call out for help or call 9-1-1. In general, you should not try to perform First Aid on another unless you are qualified to do so, and it is generally recommended not to move an unconscious person unless absolutely necessary, such as to avoid a potential fuel-fed fire, automobile explosion, or contact with oncoming traffic.

While waiting for the police to arrive, you should exchange information with the other driver if you are able to do so, including name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, vehicle plate number and insurance information. If there are any witnesses, try to get their contact information and note their description of what happened. It is important not to say anything to the other driver or witnesses that could be construed as an admission of negligence or wrongdoing on your part.

After the accident, schedule an appointment to get checked out by your doctor, who may want to order x-rays or other tests. Be aware that some car accident injuries are not immediately apparent or diagnosable. You should also contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away who can further guide you on the most important steps to take regarding your potential claim. Your lawyer may want to immediately begin to collect and preserve evidence of the accident for later use in settlement negotiations or at trial.

What do I do if I have been arrested?
AIt is important to stay calm and cooperative during your arrest. If you resist or obstruct the police, you can be charged with additional offenses. If you believe any part of the arrest is improper, save your objections for your lawyer, who will know how to deal with them. The two most important things you can do are to request an attorney and politely refuse to submit to any questioning or interrogation until you have spoken to your lawyer. These are your rights under the Constitution, and they are crucial to preserving the best defense possible in your case. Anything you say to anyone at the police station or jail, including other inmates, can be used against you.

Do I have to let the police search my home or car if they don’t have a warrant?
AThe Constitution requires that all searches and seizures must be reasonable, and while this principle generally requires a warrant based on probable cause, there are many exceptions to the warrant requirement, particularly when it comes to automobiles. If the police do not have a search warrant, the key factor to understand is whether they are asking your permission to conduct a search, or if they are telling you they are going to search. If the police are asking for your permission, they may not have cause to conduct a search unless you let them. In these situations, you are within your rights to refuse your consent, and it is often in your best interests to withhold that consent. If the police are telling you they are going to search, you should not try to interfere or obstruct them. If the search was in any way illegal, your attorney can work to get the evidence suppressed or even have the case against you dismissed.

Can I refuse to take a blood-alcohol test if I’m pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving?
AUnder Louisiana DWI law, a condition of the driving privilege is that you have given your implied consent to submit to a chemical test of your blood, breath or urine if the police have probable cause to believe you were driving while intoxicated. If you refuse to take the test, your driver’s license will be taken away and suspended for one year if this is the first time you have refused a test of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), or two years if you have previously refused a BAC test. In some cases, you can be required to take a test against your will and face additional penalties beyond the suspension of your license. The fact of your refusal can also be used against you in court.

Sometimes an officer will ask you to take other tests, collectively known as field sobriety tests, instead of a chemical test such as a breathalyzer. Field sobriety tests include exercises such as walking a straight line heel to toe, leaning your head back and touching your finger to your nose with your eyes closed, or following a pen moving across your field of vision without turning your head. Many of these tests are subjective, controversial or nonscientific, but they are used by the officer to establish probable cause to arrest you and get you to take a chemical test. In other words, you are giving the police the evidence they need to build a case against you. You are generally within your rights to refuse to take a field sobriety test, and it may be in your best interests to do so. If you are required to take a chemical test when the officer did not have probable cause to stop or arrest you, your attorney may be able to get the charges dropped.