Think before you act. We have all heard this advice. But, thinking before you act can be difficult. Sometimes, emotions and the heat of the moment prompt you to react before you think. A common example of this occurrence is in road rage altercations. It is easy to get upset when you get cut off or a person pulls out in front of you. But the legal ramifications of acting on those emotions can be dire. A recent case out of the First Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana illustrates one type of legal consequence that could happen when emotion turns to violence.
It all began in Ascension Parish when Clifford Barr, driving his pickup truck, attempted to make a left turn into a parking lot. Mr. Barr’s left turn was blocked by Ray Schexnayder, who was trying to make a left turn out of the parking lot’s entrance. As Mr. Barr attempt to make the left hand turn into the parking lot, Mr. Schexnayder simultaneously exited the parking lot, turning left as well. Both vehicles narrowly escaped hitting each other. After the near miss, both Mr. Barr and Mr. Schexnayder started exchanging words. This conversation quickly became heated. Mr. Barr, after exchanging words, continued into the parking lot. Mr. Schexnayder followed Mr. Barr into the parking lot. While in the parking lot, Mr. Schexnayder exited his pickup truck, proceeded to Mr. Barr’s vehicle, and then stuck his head through the open window of Mr. Barr’s vehicle. At this point, the facts are unclear. Both Mr. Barr and Mr. Schexnayder claim that the other person threw a punch. Regardless of who punched first, a fight ensued. In the fight, Mr. Barr sustained a nose injury when Mr. Schexnayder bit Mr. Barr on the nose.
Mr. Barr filed a lawsuit against Mr. Schexnayder for damages he sustained in the parking lot altercation. At trial, the trial court awarded damages in the amount of $25,005.00 to Mr. Barr. The trial court found Mr. Barr to be a more credible witness and believed Mr. Barr’s story that Mr. Schexnayder threw the first punch. Mr. Schexnayder, disagreeing with the trial courts determination, appealed its decision.
On appeal, Mr. Schexnayder argued that the trial court erred in finding that Mr. Schexnayder was the aggressor that started the parking lot altercation. A court’s factual finding will not be set aside unless the appellate court finds that the fact finder’s determination, in this case, the trial court’s determination, is manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. Detraz v. Lee, 950 So.2d 557, 561 (La. 2007). In making this determination, the appellate court cannot reverse the trial court’s factual determination just because it finds other evidence more credible. Pinsonneault v. Merchants & Farmers Bank & Trust Co., 816 So.2d 270, 278-79 (La. 2002). The appellate court must find that a reasonable basis does not exist for finding the fact and that the factfinder is clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous.
The First Circuit Court of Appeal disagreed with Mr. Schexnayder. It held that the trial court’s determination that Mr. Schexnayder was the initial aggressor was a reasonable determination. In coming to this decision, the First Circuit noted that Mr. Schexnayder pursued Mr. Barr into the parking lot, that Mr. Schexnayder exited his vehicle and approached Mr. Barr’s pickup truck, and that Mr. Schexnayder stuck his head inside the pickup truck through the open window to continue the verbal confrontation. These facts, the First Circuit held, are sufficient to establish a reasonable basis to believe Mr. Barr’s story that Mr. Schexnayder threw the first punch. Therefore, the First Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision.
This case shows not only the benefits of keeping a level head while driving but the importance of facts and factual determinations when bringing a lawsuit. When bringing a lawsuit, one requires an excellent lawyer who will conduct an extensive factual investigation. That way, one will have the best chance possible in winning the lawsuit that he or she brings.
Additional Sources: CLIFFORD BARR VERSUS RAY JOSEPH SCHEXNAYDER AND ABC INSURANCE COMPANY
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