Do Drivers Entering Louisiana Highways Have a Duty to Yield to Traffic?

truck-on-hwy-1615510You are driving down a highway in Louisiana minding your own business when all of the sudden an eighteen wheeler pulls out of nowhere.  BAM, you slam into the side of it, your back aches, your car is wrecked and now you are involved in a lawsuit.  Who is at fault for this unfortunate circumstance?  While this might seem like a no brainer many times great car accident lawyers will argue that the driver who was just driving down the road somehow caused the accident.  The following case out of Port Allen, Louisiana demonstrates how the Courts assess liability when accidents happen between cars traveling down the highway and those that are entering into the highway.

In 2010 a motor vehicle accident occurred on Lobdell Highway. The highway is a four-lane stretch of road in Port Allen, Louisiana. Leroy Edmond was driving a GMC Sierra truck when he struck a flatbed trailer that was being pulled by an eighteen wheeler driven by Sherbaston Wilson. Wilson was attempting to make a lefthand turn out of a truck stop and at the time of impact Wilson’s trailer had not cleared the northbound lane. Edmond filed a lawsuit against Wilson, his employer, Jowin Express, Inc., and their insurer, Cherokee Insurance Company. Edmond alleged that Wilson was negligent in failing to yield to oncoming traffic while exiting from a private driveway and that Edmond sustained permanent injuries from the accident.

A trial occurred and the jury returned a verdict assessing 95% fault or the accident to Wilson and 5% to Edmond. The damages awarded in favor of Edmond were as follows:

Past Medical Expenses – $35,000

Future Medical Expenses – $150,000

Past Lost Wages – $450,000

Future Lost Wages – $400,000

Past pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring and disfigurement – $75,000

Future pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring and disfigurement – $110,000

Loss of Enjoyment of Life – $15,000

Property Damage – $20,000

The trial court signed a judgment in accordance with the jury verdict. Edmond filed various motions including a motion asking the court to overturn the juries decision called a  JNOV, see LA. C.C.P. Art. 1811 and a motion seeking to increase the award of jury (additur) under La. C.C.P. Art. 1814,.  Both motions were denied by the trial court.

Both sides appealed the judgement of the trial court to the Court of Appeal, First Circuit for the State of Louisiana.  Wilson alleged that the jury committed errors in finding that he was 95% at fault because he believed the evidence showed that Edmond had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.  Further, Wilson also argued it was error for the jury to consider the plaintiff’s economist’s range for future lost wages because the expert admitted on the stand that the basis for his calculations were incorrect.

Edmond also filed an appeal and argued the trial court erred in failing to appropriately apply the award of damages for: future lost wages; past pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring, and disfigurement; and, future pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring, and disfigurement.

The First Circuit Court of Appeal evaluated the arguments by first assessing the evidence admitted at trial.  During the trial Wilson admitted that there was an alternative route to exit the truck stop where he could enter the highway at a traffic stop, avoiding crossing two lanes of traffic and that he had used the alternative route on prior occasions. Testimony at trial also showed that Edmonds acknowledged that he had eye problems, but testified that it had no impact on his ability to see the trailer that was clearly in front of him. The trial evidence showed that Edmond had cataracts and had been diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, which decreases peripheral vision and vision in poor lighting conditions. Thus seemingly both parties could have been assessed some fault for this accident.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that in assessing the nature of the conduct of the parties, various factors influenced the degree of the fault assigned including: (1) whether the conduct resulted from inadvertence or involved an awareness of the danger; (2) how great a risk was created by the conduct; (3) the significance of what was sought by the conduct; (4) the capacities of the actor, whether superior or inferior; and (5) any extenuating circumstances which might require the actor to proceed in haste, without proper thought. Those five factors are called the “Watson Factors” and are customarily used by appeal courts in Louisiana when reviewing the apportionment of fault in car accidents.

In reviewing those standards one overriding principle applied to this accident. Louisiana Revised Statutes 32:124 provides that the driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from a private road, driveway, alley or building, shall yield the right of way to all approaching vehicles so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. Therefore what that law means is that the driver entering a highway has the primary duty to avoid a collision.

In this case the driver entering the highway was Wilson, the driver of the eighteen wheeler. According to the law he had the duty to yield to oncoming traffic and therefore the trial court’s assessment apportioning him a greater percentage of fault was left unchanged by the First Circuit Court of Appeal. The court did consider Wilson’s arguments that Mr. Edmond should have seen the tractor trailer earlier and therefore avoided the accident.  However, the Appeals court quickly dispensed with that argument given the fact that Wilsons’ expert admitted that reflective tape on the side of his eighteen wheeler was dull and other facts weighed in Edmond’s favor.

The appeal court in this case affirmed the trial courts decision, assessing the vast majority of the fault to Wilson, the driver of the 18-wheeler.  The other arguments made on appeal were denied as well. This case demonstrates that what first seems like a simple matter, an eighteen wheeler pulling out of nowhere causing an accident, can involve complicated legal issues.  It appears that once all the facts came out at trial the jury came to a good conclusion as the appeal court left it unchanged.

Additional Sources: LEROY M. EDMOND VERSUS CHEROKEE INSURANCE COMPANY, JOWIN EXPRESS, INC., SHERBASTON T. WILSON AND STATE FARM MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Kevin Watts

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on the “Watson Factors”: Understanding Comparative Fault/Negligence and How it Impacts Judgments