What happens when a person injures another person? A tort is a civil wrong that causes another person to suffer loss or harm that results in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. The person who commits the act is called a tortfeasor. An intentional tort is a category of torts that describes a civil wrong resulting from an intentional act on the part of the tortfeasor. This case out of Ascension Parish illustrates the plaintiff’s burden of proof in a tort action.
On August 13, 2012, Mr. Clifford Barr was on his way to Rossi’s Auto Service (“Rossi’s”), driving southbound on La. Hwy 431. When Mr. Barr was about to turn into Rossi’s parking lot, he noticed another vehicle blocking the entrance. Mr. Barr waited to see if the driver was going to exit. When the vehicle did not move, Mr. Barr proceeded to drive into the parking lot. At the same time, the driver of the other vehicle, Mr. Joseph Schexnayder, pulled out of the parking lot. The two vehicles almost collided. Mr. Schexnayder opened his door and attempted to exit his vehicle, but the vehicles were too close to one another. Mr. Schexnayder reversed his vehicle into Rossi’s parking lot and Mr. Barr proceeded forward into the parking lot. Mr. Schexnayder got out of his vehicle, walked toward Mr. Barr’s vehicle, and stuck his head through Mr. Barr’s rolled-down window. While there is disagreement over which party through the first punch, it was uncontested that Mr. Barr grabbed Mr. Schexnayder and that Mr. Schexnadyer bit Mr. Barr’s nose, requiring medical treatment.
On July 15, 2013, Mr. Barr filed a lawsuit against Mr. Schexnadyer for damages. The case proceeded to trial. On October 30, 2014, the trial court issued a judgment finding that Mr. Schexnayder was the aggressor and that Mr. Barr was not at fault. More specifically the court found that Mr. Barr was very credible and that Mr. Schexnayder was the sole cause of the incident. Mr. Barr was awarded $25,005 in damages: $12,750 for physical and mental pain and suffering; $255 for past medical expenses; and $12,000 for future medical expenses.
Mr. Schexnayder appealed the judgment to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal, claiming that the trial court erred in ruling: 1) that he was the sole aggressor; 2) that his actions caused Mr. Barr’s injuries; and 2) that Mr. Barr was entitled to damages for physical and mental pain and suffering and future medical expenses.
First, Mr. Schexnayder argued that he was not the sole cause of the incident, arguing that Mr. Barr initiated physical contact by putting him in a headlock, lifting him off the ground and punching him in the head. Mr. Schexnayder argued that his actions were in self-defense and were not intentional. The Louisiana First Circuit disagreed finding nothing wrong with the trial court’s determination. Mr. Schexnayder was the one who approached Mr. Barr and stuck his head through the window and punched Mr. Barr in the face.
Second, Mr. Schexnayder argued that Mr. Barr failed to establish that Mr. Barr’s injuries were caused by Mr. Schexnayder’s actions by medical testimony and that the trial court erred in awarding Mr. Barr damages for physical pain and suffering and for future medical expenses as a result. In a tort action, the plaintiff must prove fault, causation, and damages. Wainwright v. Fontenot, 774 So.2d 70, 74 (La. 2000). The plaintiff bears the burden of proving every element of his case, including the cause-in-fact of damage, by a preponderance of the evidence. Lasha v. Olin Corp., 625 So.2d 1002, 1005 (La. 1993).
While Mr. Barr did not present expert testimony to establish his entitlement to future medical expenses, he did testify at trial and introduce certified medical records and photographs of his nose injuries. The trial court agreed that Mr. Barr did not suffer from any injuries prior to the incident and that he sufficiently met his burden of proof based on the records and his testimony. Mr. Schexnayder pointed out that Mr. Barr answered “not like this,” when asked about prior nose injuries, indicating he had been previously been injured. The Louisiana First Circuit disagreed, finding that the statement alone was insignificant and that the medical records, photographs, and testimony were enough to establish causation.
Finally, Mr. Schexnayder argued that Mr. Barr failed to establish that he suffered physical and mental pain, as well as the necessity of future medical expenses. With regard to his physical and mental pain, Mr. Barr testified that he had severe intermittent pain, which affected his sleep. In regards to future medical expenses, Mr. Barr presented evidence of future medical procedures needed for his nose.
For future medical expense, a plaintiff must establish that it is more probable than not that expense will be incurred. Degruise v. Houma Courier Newspaper, 683 So.2d 689 (La. 1996). The medical records indicated that Mr. Barr suffered a post-traumatic nasal deformity and that septorhinoplasty and laser resurfacing was needed. Given the medical records and testimony, as well as the severity of Mr. Barr’s injuries, the Louisiana First Circuit could not say that the trial court erred in the award for physical and mental pain and future medical expenses.
In the end, the Louisiana First Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision awarding Mr. Barr damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, for past medical expenses and for future medical expenses. An individual who is injured by another needs an experienced lawyer in intentional tort cases. There are many potential tort damages that a plaintiff can recover with a good lawyer and none of these damages should be jeopardized for inadequate representation.
Additional Sources: CLIFFORD BARR VERSUS RAY JOSEPH SCHEXNAYDER AND ABC INSURANCE COMPANY
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