Louisiana Fist-fight Illustrates Appeal Process, Injuries and Damages

In the late evening of May 28, 2006, Grant Lee Williams and his girlfriend, Lisa Lobrano, visited the Saddle Ridge Bar at the Louisiana Boardwalk in Bossier Parish. Also at the establishment was Michael Moore, who at one point approached the bar where Lobrano was sitting and tried to pick her up. Williams observed that Moore inappropriately touched Lobrano and hurried over to fend him off. Williams told Moore that he was Lobrano’s boyfriend and warned him to leave her alone. After this exchange, Williams and Moore turned together toward the exit and within a moment, Moore struck Williams in the face. Williams, having sustained multiple fractures to his face and a broken nose, sued Moore for battery.

Much conflicting evidence was presented at the bench trial. Lobrano testified that she did not see either man hit the other, but that as she got up from the bar she turned to see Williams with blood on his face before he fell onto the floor. At that point, according to Lobrano, Moore kicked Williams several times in the ribs. Williams admitted in testimony that he may have pushed or bumped Moore as they walked away from the bar, but that he was blindsided by Moore’s punches. Williams also testified that Moore kicked him in the ribs after he fell to the floor. Moore denied ever touching Lobrano and testified that Williams approached him at the bar, pushed him, and then punched him in the eye. Moore explained that he swung at Williams and admitted he must have hit Williams since it was clear that Williams was injured. Several other bystanders offered testimony, but none saw exactly who threw the first punch.

The trial judge did not determine who hit first, but found that both Williams and Moore were equally at fault for the altercation. The judge awarded Williams general damages in the amount of $40,000 and $30,901 for medical costs, but reduced the total award by half in light of Williams’s own fault.

On
appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals observed that “an appellate court generally reviews the factual findings of a trial court according to the manifest error standard of review.” Powell v. Regional Transit Authority, 695 So.2d 1326 (La. 1997). In other words, the appellate court must give great weight to factual conclusions of the trial judge. Where there is conflict in the testimony of witnesses, the trial judge’s reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review, even though the appellate court may feel that its own evaluations and inferences are just as reasonable as the trial judge’s.

In his appeal, Moore argued that he acted in self-defense. This is an “affirmative defense” which could have excused Moore from fault, but because he failed to raise it at the trial, the appellate court could not consider it. Instead, the court noted that “it is undisputed that Moore hurt Williams and that Williams did not deny initiating contact with a ‘bump’” and concluded that “if only different choices were made by both parties during the heat of the moment, the altercation could have been avoided.” Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial judge’s holding that Moore and Williams were equally at fault, and upheld the award of damages to Williams in the amount of $35,450.

The failure of Moore’s self-defense claim on appeal demonstrates the importance of making all available and proper arguments at the trial level so they are not foreclosed in future proceedings. Retaining competent trial counsel can ensure that no critical arguments are overlooked at the stage when they must be put forth or lost forever.

If you have been involved in a dispute that resulted in a physical altercation, call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an experienced trial attorney who can help.