Determining who is at fault in an accident is difficult, as everyone wants somebody to blame. Sometimes, the answer is not so crystal clear. Often, more than one person is to blame. When a court has to determine and assign fault to multiple parties in a car accident, it is using a theory known as comparative negligence to make the determination.
In a recent Louisiana case, a father and son (“Plaintiffs”) were struck in the back by the defendant in Baker, Louisiana. Plaintiffs filed two lawsuits for the injuries sustained in the car accident; one against the defendant and one against the defendant’s insurance company. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the crash and requested punitive or exemplary damages pursuant to La. C.C. art. 2315.4, which allows recovery for additional damages if the defendant is intoxicated. The trial court order dismissed the Plaintiffs’ claims for punitive or exemplary damages against the insurance company because the insurance contract absolved the company of responsibility for the additional damages. The trial court held that Plaintiff (father) was 5% at fault and the defendant was 95% at fault, and it awarded the Plaintiffs with a total sum of $206,755.80. The defendant appealed the judgment.
The defendant argued that the Plaintiffs should have been assigned a higher percentage of comparative fault. In deciding comparative fault, the judge or jury must consider each party’s wrongful actions and the scope of the causal relationship between the conduct and the damages claimed. Townes v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 41 So.3d 520, 529 (La. Ct. App. 2010) (citing Watson v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 469 So.2d 967, 974 (La. 1985)). According to Townes, the court must look at: “(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.”
The evidence in this case established that Plaintiff received and paid traffic citations for careless operation and failure to yield. The evidence also showed that the defendants BAC was over double the legal limit, at 0.168%. La. R.S.14:98(A)(1)(b). Based on this evidence, the court came to the 95/5 allocation of fault in the Plaintiffs’ favor. The court believed that at the time of the accident, the Plaintiff was less than attentive, but found that the defendant failed to brake and avoid impact as he was under the influence and impaired by alcohol. Therefore, the court assigned a greater amount of fault to the defendant.
The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal found that the amount of fault was reasonable and that only the trial court’s award of damages for loss of use, $5,000, was unsupported. There was no evidence that the Plaintiff suffered actual damages or incurred expenses as a direct result of the loss of use of the vehicle involved in the accident. Therefore, only the loss of use award was reversed.
In this case, the court used factual findings to compare the nature of each party’s wrongful conduct and the extent that conduct contributed to the accident. While comparative fault means that both parties were faulty and played a role in the accident, one party is usually more blameworthy and damages are assessed against them. An experienced attorney can help argue the proportion of fault in your case should be in need of one.
ADDITIONAL SOURCES: Lopez v. Cosey
WRITTEN BY: Zhuo Zhao
ADDITIONAL BERNIARD LAW FIRM ARTICLES WRITTEN ON:
Understanding Comparative Fault/Negligence and How it Impacts Judgments