Victim John Deshotels learned the hard way what happens when you donÕt have a an attorney represent you in an accident injury claim. He took his case to trial unrepresented and lost. Even after getting an attorney the damage was done and he lost again in a recent Court of Appeals decision. Plaintiff John Deshotels appealed the trial courtÕs granting of involuntary dismissal of his case against Nicholas J. Fontenot and his insurance company. Deshotels alleged he was rear ended by a car driven by Fontenot and injured. The case went to trial and following Deshotels’ presentation of his evidence, the insurance company moved for involuntary dismissal pursuant to La. Code Civ.P. art. 1672 (B).
Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1672 (B) states: that when there is no jury, a party When there is no jury, an action tried before the court may be over rather quickly. After a plaintiff has finished presenting their evidence, either party may then ask for a dismissal of the case based on the ground that the plaintiff has not shown any right to relief. The judge must rely on both law and the facts of the case that have been presented at that time. Then, the court is permitted to examine the facts currently presented and make a judgment against the plaintiff and in favor of the moving party. Or the court may decline to make any judgment on the matter until the close of all of the evidence.
Trial courts have discretion to grant an involuntary dismissal if, after weighing the evidence, they determine the plaintiff has not proved their claim by a preponderance of the evidence, or the more likely than not standard.
In this case, Deshotels was able to establish at trial that he and Fontenot were in an accident and that Fontenot had $5300 worth of repairs done to his vehicle. The partiesÕ stories conflict as to how the accident occurred. Deshotels testified that he suffered pain over his entire body after the accident and went to see Dr. Tommy Fontenot complaining of extreme redness on his left ankle and extreme pain in his neck. Deshotels also testified that he took hydrocodone for the pain. However, he was unable to produce bills for doctor visits or his medication. The evidence was insufficient to prove that Fontenot acted negligently, and the Court of Appeals found that the trial court did not err in that finding.
The Court of Appeals also disagreed with Deshotels argument that the trial court should have allowed him to introduce the traffic ticket Fontenot received after the accident. It is well established that a civil traffic citation is inadmissable to show a party was charged with a traffic violation.
Car accident victims may feel they have an open and shut negligence case against someone who has hit and injured them. However, proving the elements of negligence requires factual investigation, potential expert witnesses, and importantly, an attorney well versed in the law and pitfalls that could potentially arise. If a plaintiff does not prove that it is more likely than not a defendant acted below the appropriate standard of care and that action caused injury and damages, the case could be dismissed, as happened here. If you have been injured in a car accident, it is very important that you have an accomplished, experienced attorney to help you navigate the often messy legal waters.