In an appeal before the Louisiana First Circuit, the court reviewed an award of damages in a multi-vehicle car accident. Applying Louisiana comparative negligence law, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s finding of 65/35 shared liability between two drivers involved in the vehicle collision. The court reviewed conflicting testimony and also analyzed whether the lower court committed error in awarding future damages for lost wages and expected medical expenses.
Paul and Sybil Schexnayder brought a lawsuit for damages against Harry Bridges and his employer, N&G Trucking, Inc., Hinson Logging, Inc., and their insurer, State National Insurance Company, Inc. The underlying motor vehicle accident took place early in the early morning on U.S. Highway 190 East in West Baton Rouge Parish. Harry Bridges was driving an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer truck owned by his employer, N&G Trucking, Inc. Mr. Bridges had been hauling a load of timber logs for Hinson Logging.
Mr. Bridges exited a parking lot where the truck had stopped overnight and planned to head east on Highway 190. He pulled across two lanes of the highway after checking for traffic. Mr. Bridges made an illegal left-hand turn to get into the eastbound left-hand lane.
At the same time that Mr. Bridges pulled into the left-hand lane, two vehicles were traveling on the eastbound side of the highway, in the left-hand lane. Mary Alford drove the first vehicle, and Paul Schexnayder was in the second vehicle. Mr. Schexnayder slammed on his brakes when he saw the logging truck enter the eastbound lane, and he veered into the right lane. As he did so, Ms. Alford’s vehicle hit the right rear wheel on the tractor portion of Mr. Bridges’ truck and spun into Mr. Schexnayder’s vehicle, colliding and forcing both vehicles to slide off the paved roadway onto the shoulder. Both Mr. Schexnayder and Ms. Alford suffered injuries.
After a five-day trial, the jury returned a verdict assessing 65% fault to Mr. Bridges and 35% fault to Ms. Alford. The jury rendered a judgment of $1,481,939.92 in favor of Mr. Schexnayder against the defendants. The defendants appealed and assigned multiple errors, including the award of $247,000.00 in future medical expenses and $350,000.00 in future lost wages.
On appeal, the court turned to the jury’s allocation of fault, specifically their determination that Mr. Bridges was 65% at fault for the accident. The defendants contended that Ms. Alford was 100% at fault because Mr. Bridges was fully in the lane when she lost control of her car. Alternatively, they argued if she was not 100% at fault, her percentage of fault should be increased from 35%.
The appellate court stated that Louisiana law provides that more than one party may be at fault for damages in a car accident. The state’s comparative negligence scheme requires courts to use a duty-risk analysis to determine which parties bear responsibility. First, the plaintiff needs to show that the alleged conduct caused harm. Next, they must show that the defendants owed them a duty, which was breached. Finally, the risk of harm must be within the scope of protection provided by the breached duty.
Here, the appellate court followed a manifest error standard, deferring to the lower court’s conclusions. The jury had held both Ms. Alford and Mr. Bridges were comparatively negligent in causing Mr. Schexnayder’s injuries. The appellate court must determine whether the jury’s findings were reasonable.
The court stated that conflicting evidence was given to the jury regarding whether Mr. Bridges completed his left turn or was in the process of turning when Ms. Alford collided with the truck. Mr. Bridges admitted he made a left-hand turn illegally. Mr. Schexnayder testified that he applied his brakes when he saw the truck merging into the left lane, but he could not avoid Ms. Alford’s car as it moved into his path. He felt Ms. Alford could not have avoided the impact.
On appeal, the court stated they reviewed conflicting testimony concerning the accident and found that the jury’s allocation of fault was not clearly wrong. The jury’s conclusion that Mr. Bridges was 65% at fault and Ms. Alford 35% at fault in the accident was supported by the record. Mr. Bridges’ conduct created great risk, particularly in light of the low visibility at the time of the accident.
In terms of the award of $247,000.00 for future medical costs, the appellate court stated that this award was without error. The court stated that on appeal, the record must show that future medical expenses will be necessary and inevitable. Medical testimony must support an award and list its probable cost. Here, the appellate court stated sufficient evidence supported the jury’s determination that Mr. Schexnayder would undergo future back surgery, incurring medical expenses related to the accident. The court found the jury’s award for future medical expenses was supported by the record.
In terms of the award for future lost wages or loss of earning capacity, the court stated these awards are always speculative and cannot be calculated with certainty. As a result, the fact finder has discretion in fixing the award. Here, Mr. Schexnayder was awarded $350,000.00. He had testified that until the accident, he worked in pipe and steel fabrication. The surgeries affected his ability to work in the fabrication industry, His doctor informed him that he will only be able to work sedentary jobs, and there are no sedentary positions in the fabrication industry.
Factors to be considered when determining loss of future income include the plaintiff’s physical condition before and after surgery, his life expectancy and current age before and after the accident, and his previous earnings. To recover damages for loss of earning capacity, a plaintiff must present medical evidence showing there could be a residual disability causally related to the accident. The compensation is for his lost ability to earn, and the plaintiff need not be working or in a specific profession to recover.
The court stated that the evidence showed a strong, healthy 57-year-old man who worked for over 35 years no longer has the option of working in the same industry, due to his back condition resulting from the accident. The court stated the award of $350,000.00 for future lost wages was not excessive and unwarranted.
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.
The personal injury attorneys at Lavis Law represent Louisiana car accident victims in their pursuit of damages following an accident caused by a negligent driver. Our office provides a no-obligation, free consultation and can be reached by calling 866.558.9151.
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Louisiana Court Holds Plaintiffs Not Entitled to Damages from Negligent Driver and His Automobile Insurance Company, Due to Failure to Prove Accident Caused Injuries, Louisiana Injury Lawyer Blog, February 1, 2016
Louisiana Court Finds Automobile Insurance Company Not Liable for Damages to Plaintiff Unable to Prove Causation in Vehicle Accident, Louisiana Injury Lawyer Blog, January 25, 2016