Appealing turned out to be a beneficial move for U-Haul International, Inc., and U-Haul Company of Georgia, who were sued when Mr. Omar Erazo’s truck came off his rented U-Haul van while he was moving back to Louisiana from Georgia. Unfortunately, when the truck detached from the van on I-10 in eastern New Orleans, it collided with Mr. James Gaunt’s vehicle, resulting in serious injuries to Mr. Gaunt.
On appeal of the trial court’s findings against them, U-Haul raised a number of issues. The first issue was whether the trial court erred by conducting improper research, considering outside evidence that should not have been admitted. The appellate court sided against U-Haul on this issue, stating that a judge may conduct legal research on a site such as Westlaw and see the number of hits that “U-Haul” and “auto transport” returns.
Another issue was whether the trial court erred by assessing 90% of the fault to U-Haul and only 10% to the driver, Mr. Erazo. Here the appellate court agreed with U-Haul that 90% was too much liability considering that U-Haul employees largely followed protocol based upon the information Mr. Erazo provided them. When Mr. Erazo noticed that his truck was coming unhinged and called U-Haul, he did not convey that he felt it was unsafe to continue towing the truck. However, his subsequent conduct – driving slowly with lights blinking while making sure his wife kept a safe distance away – showed he did believe continuing to tow the truck was unsafe. If he had informed U-Haul of this belief, they would have sent someone out to help him.
However, unfortunately, Mr. Erazo decided to continue on without their help. In light of this, the appellate court determined that 50%, rather than 10%, of liability should be assigned to Mr. Erazo. Also, in contrast to the trial court, which found U-Haul International and U-Haul Georgia 80% liable (70% and 10%, respectively), the appellate court assigned no liability to U-Haul Georgia as there was no evidence that it had improperly trained its employees, and only 40% to U-Haul, International.
The third issue that U-Haul brought was whether the trial court erred by awarding an excessive amount of damages to Mr. Gaunt. The appellate court upheld the trial court here, finding the damages were not excessive. Some of the injuries that Mr. Gaunt sustained following the accident were pre-existing injuries but were aggravated by the accident. The ensuing surgeries that Mr. Gaunt would have were calculated into the damages awarded to Mr. Gaunt. The appellate court asserted that when pre-existing injuries are aggravated by a defendant’s conduct, the defendant is responsible for the additional medical expenses even if the defendant only aggravated, but did not originally cause, the injuries.
It is essential to have the best lawyers possible when deciding whether to appeal a judgment and what arguments to present. U-Haul’s lawyers raised many issues, and fortunately for U-Haul, one of the issues found favor with the appellate court.