On a rainy morning in Lafayette Parish there was an accident on I-49, and traffic was even more congested than usual. However, a subsequent accident is the subject of this post. Ms. Richard was driving southbound when she came upon the accident and stopped. The vehicle behind her did the same. A third automobile, a truck driven by Mr. Artigue, failed to stop, struck the second vehicle and pushed it into Richard’s vehicle. In the wake of the accident, Richard filed a claim and Artigue subsequently asserted the affirmative defense of sudden emergency.
The Jury determined the damages to be $225,000.00 for future lost wages, $555,833.00 for future medical expenses, $10,000.00 for past lost wages and $325,000.00 for general damages. However, the jury only allocated 60% of the fault to Mr. Artigue. The jury attributed the remainder to sudden emergency/third party fault.
Ms. Richard appealed, asserting seven assignments of error. The first three issues relate to the jury’s allocation of fault, and are the subject of this post. The final four relate to the jury’s damage awards and are the subject of the following post.
In her claim, Richard noted the trial court committed reversible error by providing a jury verdict form that allowed a sudden emergency/third party fault and by denying plaintiff’s Motion for a Directed Verdict against defendant regarding the lack of evidence introduced by the defendant regarding that defense. Ms. Richard also asserted that the jury committed erroneously assessed 40% of the fault to sudden emergency or third party fault.
Although each of these three assignments of error has a different standard of review, they present one issue: whether the facts support a finding of fault by anyone other than Artigue.
In Louisiana, following another vehicle “more closely than is reasonable and prudent,” considering the other vehicle’s speed, traffic, and weather conditions, is prohibited. Therefore, the driver of a vehicle striking another from the rear is presumed negligent. The facts of this case are not such that plaintiff created a hazard that Artigue could not reasonably avoid, but the presumption is still rebuttable if the defendant demonstrates that he had his car under control, closely observed the preceding vehicle, and followed at a safe distance under the circumstances. The Court of Appeal found no evidence that Artigue met that burden.
At least two cars came upon the scene of another accident and were able to stop, and Artigue’s vision was not obscured. Moreover, the police report shows that Artigue was inattentive and issued a citation for exceeding a safe speed limit. However, Artigue testified that he did not see the vehicles stopped ahead of him until he was one car length from the second vehicle due to the overpass (Gloria Switch Road) obscuring his vision. Nonetheless, Artigue did not present evidence that could satisfy the burden of proof.
At trial an expert witness (civil engineer), testified that Artigue had a minimum sight distance of eight hundred and thirty feet. This was calculated by the elevation of his eyes and elevation of a standard vehicle’s taillights. The expert further testified that, given Artigue’s claimed speed, he could have seen a stopped vehicle for more than ten seconds.
The court also found the trial court’s noting that it was raining at the time of accident was irrelevant. The court reasoned that the other vehicles, with less vision ahead due to a lower elevation of eye height, were able to stop despite the rain. Furthermore, the dangerous condition of wet roads was reasonably apparent to Artigue as he knew it was raining. Given Artigue’s failure to present any evidence that could reasonably support his defense, the court of appeals reversed and render that Artigue was 100% at fault for the accident.
The emergency doctrine is essential for fairness, but the mere occurrence of dangerous conditions do not suffice in establishing it. This is why hiring a competent attorney is essential while navigating your rights in the wake of an accident.
If you have been injured in an automobile accident during unsafe weather conditions, don’t risk having your deserved compensation erroneously reduced. Contact the Berniard Law Firm at Toll-Free at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney today!