Passing Poses Problems: Automobile Accident Liability for Passing Vehicles on the Roadways

Accidents are a common occurrence for automobile drivers. In fact, in 2009, there were 73,900 injuries caused by automobile accidents in the state of Louisiana. However, when one is injured in such an accident, liability is often difficult to assign. In other words, it takes a fact-finder to determine who is at fault for the accident and who is liable for damages incurred by any injured party. In a recent Louisiana court case, a passing motorist was found to be 100% liable for injuries sustained by an individual while the other motorist involved in the accident was not liable for payment of any damages.

On August 18, 1999, William Boyd was injured in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on Louisiana Highway 14 in Jefferson Davis Parish. Boyd, who was an inmate assigned to highway clean-up at the time of the accident, was a passenger in the prison van driven by Joseph Deville. A sixteen-foot trailer, used to carry tools and supplies needed for the work detail was attached to the rear of the prison van; also, a dump truck followed the van. The driver of the prison van was in search of a clear spot on Highway 14 to pull over and allow the inmates to eat lunch. Mr. Deville located a clear, shady spot on the left of the Highway and, as the prison van began to exit to the left, a passing car driven by Rosalinda Broussard hit the rear left side of the van. As a result of the accident, Mr. Boyd sustained injuries and brought suit against Mr. Deville, Wackenhut prison facility, Ms. Broussard and the insurance companies for the parties. Before trial, Mr. Boyd settled his claims against Ms. Broussard and her insurer. However, he proceeded with his claims against the three remaining defendants arguing that Mr. Deville began to make his left turn well after Ms. Broussard began her passing maneuver. In the bench trial, the trial judge found Ms. Broussard to be 100% liable for the injuries and dismissed the case against the other defendants. This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

In order to reverse a trial court’s findings, “a reasonable factual basis [must] not exist for the finding of the trial court” and “the record establishes that the finding is not clearly wrong.” Otherwise, the decision would be reversed. When imposing liability for an automobile accident, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to exercise reasonable care while driving on the road and that duty was breached by failing to act like the average reasonably motorist. This failure must have proximately caused the plaintiff’s damages. While duty and breach are questions of law and determined by the court, causation and damages are questions left for the fact-finder to determine. In Louisiana, courts have found that allocating fault “is not an exact science nor is it a search for a precise ration. Instead, the courts must determine if the “allocated fault falls within a certain range that does not violate the manifest error rule. While finding that Mr. Deville was not at fault for the accident, the court quoted a Louisiana statute, which provides specific instruction for motorists in the left lane attempting to pass other vehicles, entitled “Limitations for passing on the left.” Since Ms. Broussard did not comply with this statute and Mr. Deville used his turn signal and began to turn before Ms. Broussard began her passing maneuver, she was found to be solely responsible for the accident.

In personal injury suits, it is the responsibility of attorneys to maximize the amount of damages the injured plaintiff may recover or to minimize the liability of the defendant. Thus, it is crucial that an individual involved in such a lawsuit consult a seasoned attorney, such as those from Berniard Law Firm, to assist them with their claims.

If you think you have a claim, or you have been injured in any way, contact the Berniard Law firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help you understand your legal rights.