Odd things happen in everyday life that, really, no preparation on the part of the victim could prevent. Often chalked up to coincidence or just ‘dumb luck,’ these events do, however, still have legal ramifications for the responsible party, regardless of how odd or unique the event. One case recently affirmed by the Third Court illustrates that no matter how unusual, a responsible party still is responsible for the damage caused.
The plaintiff, Randy Williams, filed suit against the Louisiana Corporation IESI after the company’s garbage truck caused neck and shoulder injury to Mr. Williams. On December 17 2003, Mr. Williams stopped the IESI owned garbage truck during its daily garbage pick-up to request the help of the garbage men. Mr. Williams was requesting the help of the men to get his garbage can to the curb. After the men provided him assistance, Mr. Williams went to the trunk of his car. Mr. Williams testified that he heard a snapping noise and was suddenly struck by the end of a cable wire. It was concluded that the top of the garbage truck had snagged on the end of the cable wire as the garbage men continued on their route after assisting Mr. Williams. After the IESI employee’s realized what had happened, they pulled the wire loose from the truck and informed Mr. Williams that they would send help to fix the cable wire. The trial court found the IESI to be 100% liable to Mr. Williams’ injuries, awarding him just over $50,000.00. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling, while bringing to light the standard needed by a plaintiff to succeed in the different factual and legal questions required to hold a person liable for negligence.
A prima facie case (or a case in which the evidence presented is sufficient for a judgment) of negligence rests on a plaintiff’s ability to show that a duty was owed to the plaintiff by the defendant, the defendant breached that duty, and actual damage resulted as a direct cause of that breach. IESI believed that the trial court incorrectly determined that Mr. Williams had successfully met this burden. IESI made three arguments to the 3rd Circuit, requesting a reversal of the trial court’s decision: (1) IESI claims the trial court erred in concluding that a flap on the top of the garbage truck was what snagged the cable box and caused the accident; (2) IESI claims the trial court erred in finding that Mr. Williams met his burden of proving that IESI breached its duty of care to Mr. Williams; and (3) IESI claims that the trial court erred in failing to consider the possibility that the injury was in part the fault of the cable company in failing to maintain the cable wire as required by Louisiana regulation.
IESI’s first argument was unsuccessful because it failed to show a clear error made by the trial court that the garbage truck’s flap was the cause of the snapped cable. The appellate court first determined that the argument presented was an attack of the factual conclusions made by the trial court. When reviewing questions of fact determined by the trial court, the appellate court follows the manifest error doctrine. As stated in Rosell v. ESCO, the manifest-error doctrine states that the appellate court is only to reverse a factual determination of the trial court if it finds that the conclusion was clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous. When dealing with witness testimony, Rosell stated that witness credibility demands great deference to the facts of the case; only the fact finder can be aware of the variation in demeanor and tone of voice that bear so heavily on the listener’s understanding and believe in what was said.
This entry will be continued tomorrow, featuring the court’s findings regarding Mr. Williams’ claims.