Assessing Responsibility in Tragic Accident on Highway that Kills Two Passengers

According to state police, and reports in LaPlace’s L’Observateur, two men died and two others were injured in a car accident a little over a month ago on Louisiana Highway 3127 in Wallace.

At about 5:14 p.m. on Friday, September 24th, James Davis and Kerry Rodrigue of Plaquemine were killed when the Chevy Silverado they were riding in collided with an unoccupied, parked vehicle. Neither of the men were wearing a seat belt. Colby Landry, the driver of the truck, and front passenger Reggie Daigle sustained moderate injuries, and consequently, were wearing seat belts. According to investigators, Landry was trying to pass another vehicle when he lost control of the truck and crashed into the other vehicle, which was parked on the shoulder of the highway. Speed appears to be a factor in the crash.

This tragic accident brings questions to mind as to what liability attaches to a driver who acts negligently to bring about the death of his passengers? Also, in Louisiana, is liability reduced at all if the two passengers who were negligent themselves in not wearing their seat belts?

Here, the families of the deceased passengers may be able to bring a claim against the driver if the evidence supports that he is at fault for the accident, that is, if he acted negligently. Negligence occurs when someone’s action falls below the appropriate standard of care for a given situation and that action or inaction hurts someone else, to which they owed a duty. A driver has a duty his passengers (and other drivers on the road) to obey the law and drive at an appropriate level of speed. If he did not, and that action was the actual and proximate cause of the passengers’ deaths, he was negligent. A variety of damages can be collected in this type of wrongful death action, including: funeral and medical expenses (actual damages), as well as compensation for the wages the victims would have earned, and compensation for pain and suffering.

In addition, Louisiana is a pure comparative negligence state. La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. 2323. This means that individuals’ damages are reduced by whatever percentage they are deemed at fault for an accident. So, if the driver is found to be 80% at fault for the death of his two passengers due to his negligent behavior, but the deceased passengers are found to be 20% at fault for not wearing their seat belts, damages the survivors of the passengers can collect from the driver will be limited to 80% of the total damages recoverable. The question is, does not wearing a seat belt constitute negligent behavior? There is a good chance it might..

Under Louisiana law, seat belt use is mandatory for anyone riding in a car. If an individual breaks a law, it is easier to prove that they have acted negligently under the doctrine of negligence per se. While in a typical negligence action, it must be proven that the defendant owed a duty to the claimant and that duty was breached, causing injury to the claimant, in a negligence per se case the elements of duty and breach are presumed. Now obviously, no one will be bringing a negligence claim against the deceased drivers arguing they are at fault for the accident here. However, their negligent action would be taken into account when it is time to apportion fault between the parties.

If you were injured in an accident and are not to blame, it is important to choose an attorney who will be able to convince a court that you were not at all fault for any of the damages, in order to maximize your recovery. At the Berniard law firm our attorneys are experts in accident injury law and would be happy to talk to you about your case.