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Louisiana Appeals Court Reverses Judgment in Automobile Accident Case

In a case before the Louisiana Court of Appeal, Second Circuit, the court addressed whether the trial court had erred in apportioning fault after a car accident.  The defendants, Sarah Tugwell and her insurance company, American National General Insurance Company, appealed a judgment holding them liable to the plaintiffs, Joseph Solomon and Betty Blount.

The accident occurred at an intersection, as Ms. Blount was driving a car owned by Mr. Solomon, who was the front passenger.  According to Ms. Blount and Mr. Solomon, they stopped at a stop sign at the intersection, and the traffic was backed up in the westbound lane. After waiting about five to ten minutes, a driver of a stopped vehicle at the intersection waved them through. As they entered the intersection, Ms. Tugwell’s vehicle darted into the inside lane and collided with the driver’s side of Mr. Solomon’s car.

Ms. Tugwell testified that, as she approached the intersection, she glimpsed a car that appeared to be running the stop sign. She testified that she was unable to avoid the collision and was not speeding. The police had not ticketed her for speeding.

The police department arrived on the accident scene shortly afterward, and an officer ticketed Ms. Blount for failing to yield at the stop sign.

The trial court assigned 20 percent fault to Ms. Blount and 80 percent to Ms. Tugwell. Judgment was rendered in favor of the plaintiffs, $2,200 to Mr. Solomon and $6,158.33 to Ms. Blount. The defendants filed a suspensive appeal, challenging the apportionment of fault and the damages award.

On appeal, the court stated that the allocation of fault is a question of fact for the trial court to decide. Here, the defendants argued that the trial court erred in assigning 80 percent of the fault to Ms. Tugwell and minimal fault to Ms. Blount.

To examine an allocation of fault for a manifest error, a court looks at specific factors concerning the conduct, including the inadvertence or awareness of the danger, and the degree of risk caused by the conduct. The court stated that consideration should also be given to the relationship between the alleged negligent conduct and the harm to the plaintiff.

Louisiana law requires that a motorist approaching a stop sign at an intersection first stop and then yield the right of way to all vehicles that have entered the intersection or are approaching.

In the case at hand, the appellate court stated that Ms. Blount stopped at the stop sign. She could not cross the intersection because of traffic backed into the outside westbound lane. After waiting, she attempted to cross when waved through by a driver.

Based on the facts, the court stated they did not find the doctrine of preemption beneficial to Ms. Blount. She did not maintain a proper lookout or enter the intersection when it was safe to do so. Ms. Tugwell had the right of way, and there was nothing to suggest she had been speeding.

The appeals court stated that the trial court committed manifest error in their allocation of 80% fault to Ms. Tugwell. Ms. Blount’s “risky maneuver” in proceeding into the intersection after being waved through by a phantom driver was not justified, based on the facts. She had been aware of the danger presented by entering the intersection in this manner, as was evident when she proceeded from the stop sign and then stopped again in the outside lane to check for traffic.

The court reversed the judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.

At Lavis Law, we help our clients resolve insurance issues, including those related to automobile insurance claims. We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866.558.9151.

More Blog Posts:

Louisiana Appeals Court Reverses Judgment in Automobile Insurance Case Based on Direct Action Statute, Louisiana Insurance Lawyer Blog, September 11, 2015

Louisiana Appeals Court Holds that Evidence Does not Favor the Plaintiff over Insurer, Louisiana Insurance Lawyer Blog, August 18, 2015

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