The appellate process in the American judicial system is an important aspect of rights afforded to parties in a litigation. The determinations made at the trial court level are usually left unchanged. The factual analysis of the trial court is left unchanged except under extreme circumstances. It would take a fundamental error on the part of the trial judge to be reversed on a factual matter. Even more protected is the credibility determinations made by the trial judge. The reason for this is that trial judges are usually the only ones who are present to view the body language and tone of voice of any witness on the stand. Further, the trial judge is usually the one who is the best equipped to make appropriate credibility determinations due to experience. An appellate court would have to find the factual and credibility determinations made by a trial judge to be wholly unsupported by the evidence in order to overturn a trial court determination. Louisiana law states that a court of appeal may not set aside a trial court’s finding of fact in the absence of manifest error or unless it is clearly wrong. Regarding credibility determinations, the law in Louisiana states that where testimony conflicts, an appellate court should not disturb the factual findings of the trial court because it feels that its evaluations and inferences are more reasonable.
Shakeya Johnson v. The City of Shreveport, is a recent case that outlines the process by which an appellate court can review a trial court’s determination. On July 4th, 2007, in the city of Shreveport, Shakeya Johnson (plaintiff) was driving down Creswell avenue. As she approached the intersection with Marshall street, where the intersection on her road was regulated by a red traffic light, a police officer was headed towards the same intersection from Marshall street, where his road was regulated by a yellow traffic light. This meant that, at the intersectio,n Shakeya was supposed to make a complete stop as if she were at a stop sign. Instead of doing this, she ran the into the intersection and into the passenger side of the police officer’s vehicle. After the accident, she filed suit claiming that the police officer was at fault for the accident and was liable for lost wages and medical expenses incurred due to the accident. Further, Shakeya’s mother, Shirley, was also a plaintiff because she was the owner of the vehicle and claimed that the officer was liable for damage to her property. The trial court found, based on the evidence at hand, that the evidence available indicated that Shakeya was at fault for the accident.
The facts used by the trial court were based on photos that showed that Shakeya’s side of the intersection was regulated by a red light. Thus, she had the responsibility to stop at the intersection. Further, photos showed that the officer’s passenger side was hit, which indicated that the officer was well in the intersection by the time Shakeya got there. At trial, there was contradiction from the plaintiff’s witnesses as to whether there was a fifth passenger in the vehicle that Shakeya was driving that night. This led the judge to make a credibility determination of plaintiff’s witnesses that was also used in the trial judge’s ultimate determination. The issue on appeal is whether the trial court’s findings were reasonable under the evidence presented at trial. It was clear to the appellate court that the factual and credibility determinations made by the trial court were reasonable. Thus, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s determination.
While this case went against the plaintiff, in the event that another party were responsible, a skilled attorney would be able to provide the representation necessary to receive the ruling you deserve. If you have been the victim of reckless driving, or have been hurt in any type of accident, you should seek legal and medical advice immediately. Speaking to an attorney can help inform you of your rights.
Call the Berniard law firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak to an attorney today.