Car Accident Leads to Examination of Mutual Responsibility

We’ve all been there: you’re running late for work, so you rush out the door and into your car. You drive ever so slightly above the speed limit, and all the traffic lights you come across are green. Fortune seems to be on your side. Suddenly, a car seemingly comes out of nowhere and hits you. Are you partially to blame because you were in a rush and drove over the speed limit? If you are liable, how does it affect your ability to collect damages from the other driver and his or her insurance company?

Laura McKinney of Shreveport, Louisiana, faced those very questions after she collided with another driver on the morning of July 23, 2009. She was running late for her 6:00 a.m. shift at Holy Angels Residential Facilities, and the accident occurred just as she turned into its parking lot. A co-worker was leaving the parking lot and cut across several empty parking spaces to enter the main travel lane when she collided with McKinney. Neither party reported any injuries at the time, but McKinney developed left knee pain three weeks later and was diagnosed with a left knee contusion. She subsequently filed a lawsuit against the other driver and her insurance company.

At trial, several witnesses to the accident provided vital eyewitness accounts to help the court determine who was at fault. One witness testified that it appeared that McKinney was driving faster than the parking lot’s signed speed limit of 15 miles per hour. Another witness, however, testified that she did not think McKinney was driving above the speed limit. After weighing the evidence, the trial court ruled that McKinney was 40 percent at fault and the other driver was 60 percent at fault. McKinney’s damages award was therefore reduced by 40 percent, and the trial court entered a judgment in her favor in the amount of $7,632.60. McKinney appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that she was 40 percent at fault and that the trial court also erred in awarding her an excessively low amount of damages.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeal rejected both arguments and affirmed the trial court’s judgment in its entirety. The Second Circuit first addressed McKinney’s argument against the trial court’s apportionment of fault. It noted that such an apportionment is a factual determination that can only be reversed if it was “clearly wrong.” If the trial court’s fault apportionment was reasonable in light of the complete factual record, then the Second Circuit cannot reverse, even if it is convinced that it would have weighed the evidence differently and come to the opposite conclusion. Because the trial court has the discretion to credit one witness over another and because it was reasonable to infer that McKinney “was acting in haste” since she was running late to work, the trial court was not clearly wrong in determining that McKinney was 40 percent at fault. With respect to her second argument regarding damages, the Second Circuit found that McKinney did not present any evidence that the trial court abused its vast discretion in setting the amount of her damages award. Indeed, she was not unable to work because of the accident, and she did not require any pain management beyond a few sessions of physical therapy. It therefore affirmed the judgment of the trial court in its entirety.

If you have been in a car accident, contact the Berniard Law Firm. Providing the best experts in personal injuries and insurance disputes, our law firm can handle all of your litigation needs.

Call the Berniard Law Firm to speak with an attorney specializing in automobile accidents will be more than happy to help you get the financial award you deserve.