Louisiana Jury Did Not Err In Apportioning Fault For Car Crash

rim_tire_wheel_round-scaledIn the heart of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, tragedy struck on Interstate 10 as a routine drive turned fatal. Arthur Huguley, behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer for AAA Cooper Transportation, found himself in a situation that would forever alter the lives of those involved. A blown-out tire, a series of events, and a wrongful death lawsuit brought forth by Curley Mouton’s surviving family members set the stage for a courtroom drama that unfolded with unexpected twists. In the end, a jury assigned fault, but the defendants, Huguley, AAA Cooper, and their insurer, were not ready to accept the verdict without a fight. This article explores the intricacies of their appeal, shedding light on the compelling arguments presented and the complexities of apportioning fault in a tragic accident.

Arthur Huguley was driving a tractor-trailer in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, on Interstate 10 while working for AAA Cooper Transportation (“AAA Cooper”).  Huguley heard a bang and worried he might have blown out a tire. While performing a maneuver to see if he had blown out a tire, the tire that had blown out came apart and flew into the air. Curley Mouton was driving in a truck behind Huguley when debris from the tire started flying through the air. The debris hit Mouton’s truck, causing him to hit a guardrail, flip over, and crash. Mouton died in the crash. 

Mouton’s surviving spouse and son filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Huguley, AAA Cooper, and their insurer. A jury found in favor of Mouton’s family and assigned 10% fault to Huguley and 90% to AAA Cooper for putting a defective tire on its truck. The defendants appealed, claiming the jury had erred in its ruling.

On appeal, the defendants raised multiple issues about the trial court’s ruling. The defendants first argued that the jury erred in not assigning Mouton any fault and assigning 10% of fault to Huguley. An appellate court must defer to the jury’s division of fault. See Dupree v. City of New Orleans. If there are two reasonable ways to view the evidence, then the jury’s allocation cannot be manifestly erroneous, so the appellate court cannot overturn the division of fault. See Stobart v. State, Dep’t of Transp. and Dev.

The appellate court reviewed the evidence related to the jury’s decision to allocate Mouton no fault for the accident. At trial, the driver who had been driving behind both Huguley and Mouton when the accident occurred testified about the events that gave rise to the car accident. The driver testified in his view, Mouton had not done anything wrong. Another witness to the accident also testified she did not think Mouton had done anything improper. The witnesses thought Mouton was safely and carefully operating his vehicle at the time of the accident. Therefore, the appellate court held the jury did not err in allocating no fault to Mouton.

The appellate court next considered whether the jury had erred in assigning 10% fault to Huguley. At trial, Huguley had testified about why he had performed the maneuver to see if one of his tires had blown out instead of pulling over and inspecting the tires.  He also testified he had gone an additional two miles after hearing the loud bang before checking if one of the tires on the truck had blown out. The evidence also showed the at-issue tire was at least six years old and had been retreaded and plugged multiple times. AAA Cooper was aware of the tire’s history but decided to continue using it instead of replacing it. Therefore, the appellate court held that the jury did not err in assigning 10% of the fault to Huguley and the remaining 90% to AAA Cooper. 

On appeal, the defendants also argued the trial court erred by allowing the Plaintiffs’ expert, Michael Gillen, to testify about accident reconstruction. An appellate court can only overturn a trial court’s decision on whether to qualify an expert witness if the trial court abused its discretion. See State v. Castleberry. 

The appellate court reviewed the record about Gillen’s training and experience. The evidence showed Gillen had extensive training and experience. He had also been qualified as an expert in multiple prior lawsuits. A prior case before the Louisiana Supreme Court, Cheairs v. State ex rel. DOTD noted Gillen’s extensive experience. Based on the evidence of Gillen’s experience and training, the appellate court held the trial court had not erred in permitting Gillen to testify as an expert witness. 

Finally, the defendants argued plaintiffs did not plead a valid cause of action against AAA Cooper, who owned the tractor-trailer Huguley was driving at the time of the accident. The appellate court noted that the plaintiffs’ petition claimed that AAA Cooper did not properly maintain their tractor-trailer and did not adhere to reasonable safety standards. The appellate court found those allegations set forth the plaintiffs’ theory that AAA Cooper was responsible for the failed tire. Additionally, the plaintiffs noted the defendants did not object to including a blank for AAA’s fault at trial on the form provided to the jury. 

Under La. C.C. art. 1793(c), if a party does not object to a jury instruction at trial, it waives its right to object to the charges at trial. Further, AAA Cooper had stipulated Huguley was in the course and scope of his employment with them when the accident occurred. As a result, because of vicarious liability, AAA Cooper would be responsible for the entire judgment amount the jury allocated to it and Huguley. Therefore, the appellate court found any error in how the jury allocated fault between AAA Cooper and Huguley would have been harmless because it would not have affected the amount AAA Cooper owed.

The journey through the legal labyrinth, as seen in the appellate battle following Curley Mouton’s tragic accident, highlights the multifaceted nature of seeking justice. While the appellate court ultimately upheld the jury’s allocation of fault, the defendants’ efforts to challenge the judgment underscore the importance of legal expertise in navigating the intricate world of appeals. This case is a stark reminder that the pursuit of justice is not merely about the trial but extends to the post-trial battleground, where skilled attorneys play a pivotal role in defending or contesting verdicts. Mouton’s family prevailed in their pursuit of accountability, but their struggle on appeal illuminates the challenging terrain that litigants must traverse to secure justice in the face of adversity.

Additional Sources: Linda and Cory Mouton v. AAA Cooper Transportation, et al.

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

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