Honesty is always the best policy. This proverb rings especially true in the legal system, where truthfulness and transparency are vital to maintaining the legal process. Failure to tell the truth or even a mistake in remembering the facts can bring severe consequences, as Mark and Paulette Moore discovered after a car accident on Interstate 10 in Iberville Parish.
Russell Charles was driving his vehicle and pulling a flatbed trailer when a pick-up driven by Mark Moore suddenly rear-ended him. The pick-up was the property of Moore Leasing LLC, a company Mark and Paulette Moore, Mark’s wife, owned together and insured by State Farm.
About six months after the accident, Moore signed an affidavit stating he was not in the course of employment when the car accident occurred and that the State Farm policy was the only liability insurance available that would give Charles coverage for the injuries from the accident.
A few days after signing the affidavit, Russell Charles signed a release in consideration of fifty-thousand dollars to release all claims against Mark and Paulette Moore, Moore Leasing LLC, and “all other persons, firms, or corporations liable or, who might be claimed liable” for the accident. Less than one month after signing the affidavit, Charles sued multiple companies owned by the Moores (Moore Petroleum, Inc., and Power Petroleum, Inc.), seeking damages for injuries from the accident.
Moore Petroleum raised the defenses of compromise, settlement, and res judicata based on the prior release signed by Charles. Moore Petroleum then filed a motion for Summary Judgement claiming that 1.) Mark Moore was not in the scope or course of employment for either company at the time of the accident, and 2) the Charles release agreement precludes any action.
Charles countered the motion stating that: 1.) Defendants did not put forth admissible summary judgment evidence with affidavits unsigned by the affiants. 2.) There were issues of fact as to whether Moore was working for Power Petroleum at the time of the accident as he was communicating with others about Hurricane Sandy’s effect on Power Petroleum. 3.) Genuine issues of fact were created by Moore’s previous inconsistent statements.
Ultimately, the trial court granted the summary judgment motion holding the release signed by Charles was valid and enforceable. However, Charles appealed, contending the trial court erred. Charles’s main argument was that his release was invalid because of an error in dispute or fraud.
The Appellate Court first reviewed Moore’s affidavit, stating that he had no other liability insurance to cover Charles’s damages and was not within the course and scope of employment at the time of the accident. In addition, the court reviewed a deposition from Moore where he said he was coming home from a personal trip to see his aunt in Montgomery when the accident occurred. Both the affidavit and deposition were consistent with the trial court’s holding. However, Charles also submitted emails from Moore’s attorney stating that Moore said he was actually in Mobile on business.
Fraud only needs to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence and may be established by circumstantial evidence like suspicious facts and circumstances. LSA-C.C. art. 1957; Wade v. Marine Services of Acadiana, LLC. The court reasoned that Moore’s inconsistencies in his original statements clearly destroyed his credibility and, at the least, raised genuine issues of fact ias to whether true information was withheld from Charles when the release was obtained. Thus, the trial court’s holding was reversed and the matter was sent back down to the trial court for further proceedings.
This case highlights the significance of honesty and transparency in the legal system. The consequences of failing to tell the truth or providing inconsistent statements can be severe. This ruling emphasizes the need for competent legal representation to uncover the truth and expose misrepresentations. In the legal system, honesty remains the best policy.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: T.J. Reinhardt
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