To many who contemplate filing a lawsuit for an automobile accident, it may seem sufficient to show that the other driver was at fault – show he ran the red light, she failed to signal, and then it’s all downhill from there. But one element of all negligence cases is causation. You must prove that the injuries you have were caused by the accident itself. Normally this is pretty simple, but preexisting conditions can muddy the waters. Wayne Bouchon found out the hard way that proving causation was critical to his case.
Wayne and his wife, Roberta, were driving down Highway 22 near Mandeville on their way to get lunch when their vehicle was struck from behind. The Bouchons told the officer who came to the scene that they were not hurt, but later that day, Wayne started experiencing lower back pain. Despite the pain, the Bouchons did not file a lawsuit until nearly twelve months after the accident.
Of the evidence presented at trial, Wayne’s medical records showed he had been treated for a back injury a few years before after lifting a heavy box. Also, the Trial Court heard testimony that Wayne had taken a job at Office Depot a few months after the accident, which required standing for long periods and occasionally moving furniture. His doctor testified to a correlation between his Office Depot job and the worsening of his symptoms. As a result, the Trial Court found that the Bouchons had not proved the accident was the cause of Wayne’s injuries, and awarded only $5,000 in minimal pain and suffering. The Bouchons appealed.
The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal heard the case. It noted that the plaintiff in a personal injury case must prove his injuries were caused by the defendant’s actions. More specifically, the plaintiff must prove that his injuries were not the result of some separate, independent cause, as the defendant may not be held liable for injuries not caused by their negligence. See Richardson v. Bridgefield Cas. Ins. Co., 181 So. 3d 61 (La. Ct. App. 2015). Further, the Court observed that causation is a factual finding, and such finding on the trial level cannot be reversed absent a showing of manifest error. See Detraz v. Lee, 950 So. 2d 557, 561 (La. 2007).
The problem with Wayne’s case was that he could not distinguish between symptoms he suffered from his 2010 injury and the accident. Though he correctly asserted that the defendant provided no evidence to dispute his injuries, the fact of the matter was the defendant didn’t have to. It was the burden of Wayne as the plaintiff to show that his injuries were caused by the accident, and not by lifting that box a few years before. Since Wayne could not disprove that the injuries were caused by a separate, independent source, the Appellate Court had to affirm the Trial Court’s decision.
Wayne Bouchard may very well have been injured in that accident. But he did not provide sufficient proof to show that the injuries sustained in the accident were different than the ones he sustained years before. If you pursue damages in a personal injury case, make sure you speak with a good lawyer who can effectively demonstrate the differences between any old injuries and ones caused by your accident.
Additional Sources: ROBERTA AND WAYNE BOUCHON v. JENNIFER AND JON WALKENFORD, et al.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Matt Keen
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