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Insurance Dispute Over Traffic Accident Leads to Appeal

The Third Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana affirmed a Pineville City Court’s decision to grant the plaintiffs’ awards for lost wages and injuries that resulted from a serious traffic accident. The decision was affirmed by the appellate court after a finding that the plaintiff was not negligent in the incident and there was no clear showing of error made by the the trial court.

In considering the defendants, Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Company and the defendant driver’s allegation that the trial court erred in the vehicular accident case, the appellate court explored the facts and reasoned that the offered evidence to support a finding of error was not valid. In order to overturn a trial court’s decision, a court of appeal must find manifest error or determine that the initial ruling was clearly wrong. If the testimony provided is not credible, or the inferences of fact were not reasonable, the appellate court may overturn a decision. However, in this case, the appellate court declared that the testimony was credible, in fact, the defendants own testimony supported the trial court’s ultimate decision. Furthermore, the trial court’s assessment of damages is a finding of fact to which appellate courts give great deference on review. It is not an easy task to simply overturn a damages award, thus, as a result, the record must clearly reveal that the jury abused their discretion in making its award.

The plaintiff in this case was a young woman who was driving her Pontiac Grand Prix with her son and an acquaintance who had his ten year old son as passengers. the plaintiff’s vehicle was in the far right lane on a four lane highway with two eastbound and two westbound lanes. The lane the plaintiff was traveling in became heavily congested, thus, she looked in her rear view mirror to determine whether or not the left hand lane was safe to enter. This is an important factor to consider, since the defendant driver testified that he saw her check her rear view mirror numerous times, supporting the idea that she did not simply enter into the lane negligently. In addition to the plaintiff driver checking her rearview mirror, the adult passenger in the vehicle also checked out the window to assure her that it was safe to change lanes. As she entered the lane, an eighteen-wheeler operated by the defendant collided with her Pontiac, making it spin to face the opposite direction. The issue raised by the incident was who was at fault for the collision.

Many times factual determinations rest on testimony provided. In this case, the officer at the scene provided the conversations he had with both parties following the accident. What the officer had to say leaned heavily in the plaintiff’s favor, since the eighteen-wheeler driver declared that he saw the plaintiff check her rear view mirror numerous times and as he was behind her, decided to change lanes at essentially the same time she did, resulting in the collision. Following the accident the plaintiff driver and her passengers and the three passengers sought medical attention, the doctor’s report indicated that two of the passengers suffered various soft-tissue injuries, including cervical, thoracic, and lumbar strains, a post-traumatic headache, and clavicle damage. In order to remedy there injuries physical therapy, medication, and cold/hot packs were prescribed. Unfortunately, none of the injured parties had medical attention, so the medical expenses began to weigh heavily on their finances. Specifically, the plaintiff’s acquaintance that was riding in her vehicle the day the collision occurred was a carpenter, his injuries grew increasingly worse, negatively impacting his ability to perform his work duties. With the loss of income, increasing medical expenses, and the need for future help, the lawsuit ensued. The trial court held that the defendant driver was solely responsible for the accident and the trial court awarded $9,500 in general damages to the adult passenger plaintiff as well as $11,000 in general damages as well as $1,500 in lost wages to the driver plaintiff. Both adult passengers were reimbursed for their medical expenses.

The trial court determined that the testimony provided by all the parties and the resulting injuries supported the finding of damages and responsibility. Yet, the defendants attempted to portray to the appellate court, that the fact at issue was the trial court’s failure to apply appropriate law to the facts of the case. The entire basis of their argument was that the plaintiff driver “it must be presumed…did not look before she turned because if she had looked she would have surely noticed the appellant’s 18-wheeler.” Further, the defendants alleged that the plaintiff did not testify at trial due to a prior felony conviction, thus her declarations in regards to the collision should be held unreliable. Neither argument succeeded. First, the defendant driver testified that he saw the plaintiff driver check her rear view mirror “numerous times,” this negates the defendants argument that she simply “should have known.” Secondly, the trial court was fully aware of her prior felony conviction, but apparently found the plaintiff’s position more credible then the defendant driver’s. Lastly, the plaintiff had no obligation to testify, no one subpoenaed her as a witness, the defendants never called her to the stand.

The defendants failed to provide any authority for their positions, they simply argued that the trial court’s ruling was not fair. In order to make a legal position, one must first build a foundation using precedent, case law, or statutory authority. Without a foundation a building will fall, as such, the defendant’s argument failed without having any support.

If you have been injured in a car accident, you need representation that will be able to build the legal foundation you need in order to have a supported legal argument.

Please call the Berniard Law Firm toll free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help.