A recent case in the Parish of Lafayette, Louisiana, demonstrates conflictive viewpoints and the shifting burden of responsibility that can take place in an automobile accident, much less one taking place in a parking lot. The plaintiff, Ms. Duhon, was driving her 2009 Lincoln MKX in a parking lot on property in Lafayette when a 2006 Toyota Sequoia driven by Ms. Foley entered the parking lot from Ambassador Caffery Parkway and the vehicles collided. The defendant was insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm).
Ms. Duhon filed suit against Ms. Foley and her insurer, State Farm, seeking recovery for (1) the out of pocket deductible she paid for repairs to her vehicle; (2) the out of pocket rental expenses she paid; and, (3) the diminution in value of her vehicle as a result of this accident. However, the trial court held a bench trial and ruled in favor of Ms. Foley, finding Ms. Duhon one hundred percent at fault for the incident, eventually leading to an appeal.
Ms. Duhon asserts the trial court erred in finding her at fault and denying her recovery of the damages she allegedly sustained in the accident. The Court of Appeal, for the Second Circuit of Louisiana, amended the trial court’s decision to a fifty-fifty fault allocation. The Court applies the manifest error standard of review in their findings. Under this standard, the Court of Appeal must meet the following two-part test: (1) find that a reasonable factual basis does not exist for the finding, and (2) further determine that the record establishes that the fact finder is clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous. After reviewing the record in its entirety, the Court of Appeal found that a reasonable factual basis does not exist for the trial court’s findings and that the trial court’s determination of negligence exclusively on the part of Ms. Duhon was manifest error. Not only did Ms. Foley’s testimony conflict with Ms. Duhon’s, it was also not corroborated by the physical evidence. Even the trial court intimated comparative fault of the drivers when it stated in its oral reasons for judgment that “neither party entered with enough caution to avoid the accident.” Thus, the trial court erred in assessing no fault to Ms. Foley for this accident.
In her appeal, Ms. Duhon also disputed the figure involving the diminished value of her 2009 Lincoln MKX. At trial, both Ms. Duhon and State Farm submitted estimates of the diminished value for the trial court’s consideration. Ms. Duhon determined the diminished value at $6,730.76 by using an online website while State Farm offered a diminished value assessment prepared by Crawford & Associates at $2,179.54. The Court of Appeal accepted the valuation offered by State Farm.
According to the foregoing holdings, the Court of Appeal amended the trial court’s judgment to reflect an award of fifty percent of $454.09 (the total amount paid by Ms. Duhon for her deductible and rental expenses) and fifty percent of $ 2,179.54 for the diminution in the value of Ms. Duhon’s vehicle.
This complicated case showcases the ability for a loss at the trial level to be overturned on appeal and is a great indicator of why proper representation is key. Had Ms. Duhon not received quality representation on the second level, she may have been completely out of luck in her appeal and not received any of the compensation she deserved.