A wide variety of events can occur to cause injury. The courts, when faced with a civil litigation involving a personal injury, are forced to narrow the cause of said injury in order to determine how much damage was caused by an incident. When a person has a series of injuries, or has a less than sterling claim, the courts are forced to decide just how responsible the incident was for the pain suffered.
A recent case involving a malfunctioning bridge and a questionable “victim” helps highlight this problem. The plaintiff in this case, Ms. Trahan, was stopped at the Highway 14 Bridge in Abbeville, Louisiana as a boat passed under. The bridge, owned and operated by the defendant Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development, failed to correctly fall in place once the boat had safety passed. The bridge incorrectly sat between 3 to 7 inches above the road’s surface. Ms. Trahan hit the raised area while traveling approximately 15 miles per hour. Ms. Trahan claimed that she had sustained severe back pain as a result of the collision. The state argued that they were in fact liable for the defect in the bridge, but the injury sustained by Ms. Trahan was not at all related to the defective bridge. The trial court agreed with the state department and dismissed the case. In its conclusion, the trial court found the credibility of Ms. Trahan to be highly suspect, and was presented with evidence that suggested alternative possibilities for Ms. Trahan’s injuries. Ms. Trahan’s sole appeal rested on the fact that the trial court erred when it failed to find that the injury to Ms. Trahan was a direct result of the bridge incident.
A necessary element to a claim of liability is not simply that an injury exists, but that the factual evidence sufficiently shows that the defendant was the actual and proximate cause of that injury. In ruling on questions of fact, like the one presented in this case, the appellate court follows the manifest error standard when determining whether to affirm or reverse the trial court’s decision. At the trial court, Ms. Trahan was required to show by a preponderance of the evidence that her back injury was a direct result of the bridge’s defect. Because the trial court determined that Ms. Trahan failed to meet that burden, the manifest error standard, as stated in Lewis v. Department of Transportation & Development, requires the appellate court to determine only if the trial court’s factual conclusion were reasonable. The decision is only reversed if it is found that the trial court’s finding was clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous. The case of Orea v. Scallan puts the standard in perspective, stating that the appellate court may not reverse simply because it is convinced that, had it been determining the facts as they were presented in the trial court, it would have come to a different outcome. Additionally, when a trial court’s findings are based on the credibility of witnesses, Rosell v. ESCO establishes that the trial court’s reasonable evaluation of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review by the appellate court.
In following the manifest error standard, the 3rd Circuit affirmed the trial court’s conclusion by finding that the trial court had a reasonable factual basis for its finding. During the trial, it was revealed that Ms. Trahan suffered from spondylolysis, a congenital condition that causes structural weakness in the spine. Doctors close to Ms. Trahan testified that Ms. Trahan found herself in multiple situations prior to the bridge incident that could have caused the injuries. Throughout the trial, Ms. Trahan presented different accounts to different doctors about the nature of her back condition, leaving the trial court to determine Mr. Trahan’s credibility to be “highly suspect.” Ms. Trahan case shows the importance of an individual to not only show that an injury exists when filing a negligence claim, but also that the injury was the actual and proximate cause of the alleged negligent actor.
Injuries to yourself or a loved one should not be taken lightly. If you believe that an injury was the result of some defect, you should consult with a lawyer, as you might be entitled to compensation.
If you have been injured, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with an attorney who can help you apply the most effective trial strategy to your case and obtain the recovery you deserve.