Ouachita Parish Car Wreck Shows Trial Court’s Role in Settling “He Said/She Said” Arguments

On October 18, 2007, Kalencia Young and her passenger, Ashley Newsome, both pregnant, were driving on DeSiard Street toward Renwick Street in Monroe. At the same time, Gerald Adams was driving toward the intersection, which was controlled by a traffic light, on Renwick Street. The two vehicles collided when Adams’s pickup truck struck the passenger side of Young’s car.

Officer Tobyn Berry of the Monroe Police Department responded to the scene. He questioned both drivers and inspected the traffic light to determine that it was working normally. Berry also questioned two witnesses to the accident. One of the witnesses claimed that he saw Adams talking on his cell phone at the time of the crash and alleged that the traffic light was red for Adams as he approached the interestion. Officer Berry issued Adams a citation for failing to observe the traffic signal. Both Young and Newsome were taken to the St. Francis Hospital by ambulance and were released a short time later.

Young and Newsome sued Adams for the injuries they sustained in the crash. At the trial, Officer Berry’s deposition and accident report were entered into evidence. Both Young and Newsome testified, agreeing on few details except that they had a green light at the intersection. In response, Adams testified that he had the green light as he approached the intersection, and denied talking on his cell phone at the time of the accident. The trial court rendered judgment for Adams, finding his testimony to be “more credible than the entirety of the plaintiffs’ case.” Young and Newsome filed a motion for a new trial so they could subpoena the two witnesses from the scene. The witnesses failed to appear during the second trial, and the court once again rendered judgment in Adams’s favor.

Young and Newsome appealed, arguing that the trial court’s ruling was “manifestly erroneous on the evidence presented since it accepted the uncorroborated testimony of Adams and failed to give any weight to the corroborated testimony of … the plaintiffs.” The Second Circuit reviewed the manifest error standard, noting that

“A trier of fact’s decision to hold the testimony of one of two or more witnesses more credible does not constitute manifest error. Where there is conflict in testimony, 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 as reasonable.” Rosell v. Esco, 549 So. 2d 840 (La. 1989).

In examining the trial record, the court observed that each plaintiffs’ testimony often conflicted with the other’s, and that Young was unable to remember significant details when asked on the stand, such as which lane her car was traveling in. Adams’s testimony, on the other hand, was consistent from one trial to the next. The court concluded, “Though we are troubled by the evidence against Adams, we still are unable to substitute our judgment over the trial court, which had the opportunity to determine credibility, while we are constrained by reading the cold transcript. We do not find that the trial court was clearly wrong.” Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment in favor of Adams.

The Young case illustrates the critical role the trial court plays in evaluating the credibility of witnesses. The resolution of this matter turned almost entirely on the parties’ testimony which was in direct conflict on most points. Clearly, the “variations in demeanor and tone of voice” of the parties impacted the judge’s understanding and belief in what was said. Rosell, 549 So. 2d at 840. Given that an appellate court must defer to the trial court’s judgment about witness credibility except in the most extreme cases, it is essential that a plaintiff thoroughly prepare for trial in order to capitalize on the opportunity to establish credibility with the court.

If you have been injured in a car wreck, call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help you prepare your case for trial and obtain the judgment you deserve.