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The Rough Notes Company Inc.

Splitting hairs

Splitting hairs

July 25
09:06 2019

Splitting hairs

On July 21, 2015, Lauren Koertge, then age 14, sustained a third-degree chemical burn to the back of her scalp after having her hair highlighted at a salon. Lauren’s mother, Donnette Koertge, filed a petition for damages on behalf of Lauren, as well as herself, against the stylist, Marlaina Free; the salon, The Mane Design, LLC, and its insurer, State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Company.

Subsequently, Donnette filed a motion for summary judgment. With regard to the matter of liability, the motion was uncontested by the defendants and was granted by the court. A bench trial was held on January 8, 2018, on the sole issue of damages. The court issued a written opinion on April 24, 2018, and on May 4 made the following award in favor of Lauren: $265,000 for pain, suffering, and psychological damages; $101,520.16 for past medical expenses, and $10,000 for future medical expenses—totaling $376,520.16. The court declined to award damages to Donnette. Donnette appealed, individually and on behalf of Lauren.

On appeal, Donnette asserted that the trial court erred in failing to (1) award damages for the cost of two future hair follicle transplants instead of one; (2) award damages for future counseling expenses; (3) award bystander and loss of consortium damages to Donnette, and (4) award adequate general damages.

Dr. Kenneth Sanders, the plastic surgeon who was treating Lauren, testified at trial that Lauren likely would need to have two hair follicle transplants in the future to resolve a bald spot on the back of her head where the burn occurred and scar tissue existed. Dr. Sanders further testified that the cost of each transplant was approximately $10,000.

The appellate court found no reasonable factual basis for the trial court’s “seemingly arbitrary” decision to grant an award for one hair follicle transplant rather than two.

On the issue of damages for Lauren’s future psychological counseling, the court noted that the defendants offered no expert testimony to refute the testimony of Lauren’s counselor, Dr. Laura Harris. The court further observed that at trial the court several times interjected during Dr. Harris’s testimony and that at several junctures it expressed its personal opinions as to whether Lauren would require future counseling. Based on the record, the court concluded that Donette presented sufficient evidence to support an award for future counseling expenses in the amount of $4,500, which would pay for 30 weeks of weekly hour-long sessions.

Accordingly, the court amended the portion of the trial court’s judgment regarding future medical expenses to include awards to Lauren for a second hair follicle transplant at the cost of $10,000 and future counseling at the cost of $4,500, thereby increasing the amount of the total award for future medical expenses to $24,500.

The court upheld the trial court’s decision not to award Donnette damages for bystander injuries and loss of consortium, stating that she failed to meet the standards required to support her claims.

The court also disagreed with Donnette’s contention that the trial court should have awarded Lauren more than the $265,000 it granted her for general damages. The court found that the lower court had a reasonable factual basis for its award.

Koertge v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Company-Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Second Circuit-February 27, 2019-No. 52,5034-CA.

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