The Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit recently upheld a trial court decision finding a Monroe motorist negligent following a minor collision in which she was rear-ended by a police cruiser as she was pulling across five-lane Forsythe Avenue. The plaintiff, Cathy Griffin, sued the City of Monroe and Police Officer Jeffrey Pilcher following the July 2008 collision.
The Trial Court held Griffin was clearly negligent, noting that Griffin barely avoided a collision with a westbound vehicle when she pulled her car out onto Forsythe. The Court held she then crossed the lanes of travel and entered the outside lane where the collision occurred. After taking the matter under advisement to determine whether any fault should be assessed against Pilcher, the trial judge found no fault on his part. The trial judge concluded that Pilcher was doing what was necessary to apprehend a speeder and was not driving with reckless disregard for the safety of others, whereas Griffin pulled onto Forsythe without seeing what she should have seen, namely, Pilcher’s approaching patrol car with its emergency lights flashing.
Griffin appealed both the Trial Court’s finding that she was negligent as well as the determination that Pilcher was not negligent.
The accident occurred as Officer Pilcher, who was conducting a speed enforcement patrol on the 35 mph highway, observed a vehicle traveling 53 mph. Pilcher activated his lights and dashboard video camera, pulled from the parking lot he was in and began pursuit of the speeding motorist. Just as Pilcher began the pursuit, Griffin was preparing to exit the parking lot of a Chase Bank located on the westbound side of Forsythe. Griffin wanted to turn left across Forsythe and get all the way to the outside eastbound lane so that she could then take a right at Oliver Road.
At trial, Griffin testified that she had looked to her left (east) and then to her right (west) prior to entering Forsythe. She waited for a westbound truck coming from her left to pass and then entered the roadway. Because nothing had been coming when she looked right, Griffin did not look to her right again or stop in the turn lane to check for oncoming traffic before entering the eastbound lanes. Griffin testified that she did not see Pilcher’s patrol car traveling eastbound until it hit her from behind. However, an accident reconstruction expert testified that if Pilcher could see Griffin move across the westbound lanes of Forsythe, then she could have seen him approaching if she had looked in Pilcher’s direction. He also stated Griffin was turning at an angle and that her vehicle never got completely straight in the outside eastbound lane before the accident occurred.
In upholding the Trial Court’s Opinion, the Court of Appeal relied upon La. R.S. 32:124 which provides that a “driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from a private road, driveway, alley or building … shall yield the right of way to all approaching vehicles so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.” Additionally, drivers are required to yield the right of way upon the immediate approach of emergency vehicles making use of audible or visual signals. This statutory duty arises when a motorist observes or hears (or should have observed or heard) the audible or visual warnings.
Griffin also contended Pilcher’s speed, lack of siren and use of a cell phone violated the duty of ordinary care. Louisiana law provides the driver of an emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call, or when in pursuit of an actual or suspected violation of the law may exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property but must not due so without reckless disregard for the safety of all persons. The appellate court held Pilcher’s actions were not grossly negligent and he did not act with reckless disregard for the safety of others. Pilcher’s speed was necessary to apprehend the speeder and occurred on a flat straight roadway when the traffic was not heavy. Moreover, the Court found Pilcher’s hands-free cell phone conversation did not contribute to the accident.
It is important when involved in a car accident to immediately contact an experienced attorney so you can recover the money you deserve.