Laws of nature and summary judgment

A barge moored at a facility operated by Lafarge came loose during Hurricane Katrina and caused extensive damage.  The district court granted summary judgment to Lafarge, finding that the plaintiff’s damage theory was not scientifically credible in light of the observed weather conditions at the time.  St. Bernard Parish v. Lafarge North America, Inc., No. 13-30030 (Dec. 19, 2013, unpublished).  The Fifth Circuit agreed that “[t]here is a great deal of testimony supporting Lafarge’s position, to be sure, and little to support the Parish’s, but we are mindful of the summary judgment standard.”  It reversed, however, noting eyewitness testimony that was not consistent with the defendant’s expert analysis. The Court distinguished and limited Ralston Purina v. Hobson, 554 F.2d 725 (5th Cir. 1977), which involved an unusual theory about the behavior of starving chickens, on the ground that its plaintiff could not prove the facts that his theory required.

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