Reason and Error on Appeal in Trip and Fall Case

Trip and fall cases like that of Ms. Arlene Chambers represent a significant portion of civil cases in Louisiana and around the country. There are various issues of law to review when the defendant appeals a successful result. Ms. Chambers had won a judgment for her injuries against the small Louisiana Village of Moureauville. The Village appealed and was only slightly successful in getting the reduction in the award that they sought.

The events leading to this case occurred on a sidewalk controlled and maintained by the Village in April 2008. Ms. Chambers came upon a “ledge” in the sidewalk where two abutting pieces of the sidewalk were of differing altitudes. She tripped on this ledge and injured her right arm. Ms. Chambers sustained a “comminuted fracture of the radius.” This injury resulted in several rounds of physical therapy that, while appearing at the time to be successful, were not a permanent solution to Ms. Chambers’ nagging injuries. These injuries eventually spread to her shoulder due to the necessary immobilization of her arm caused by the initial injury.

Ms. Chambers was awarded $200,000.00 for past and future pain and suffering; $25,000.00 in hedonic damages; $54,148.00 in future wage loss; $46,616.17 in past medical expenses; $10,000.00 in future medical expenses; and $3,617.34 in past wage loss. The Village was found to be 100 percent at fault for the accident. Ms. Chambers was also awarded all costs and fees, including the fees necessary to pay experts to testify on her behalf.

On appeal, the majority of this award was kept intact. The standard of review for findings of a damages by a trial court is “manifest error.” This means that if the trial court reasonably could have found in the way it did based on the record, the appellate court should not disturb the findings or award. The appellate court cannot argue that if they had been sitting at the trial level and hearing the case with the same record of testimony and evidence they would have decided the case differently. The manifest error standard is more deferential to the trial court than that. The case law dictates that an objective standard be used.

The appellate court in Ms. Chambers’ case found manifest error in the assignment of 100 percent fault to the Village. The court pointed to Ms. Chambers’ admission that she had noticed some irregularities in the sidewalk. This knowledge was enough for the appellate court to adjust the finding of comparative fault. When an appellate court finds manifest error on the part of the trial court it is authorized to set the fault to the highest possible level assessable to the defendant and the lowest possible level assessable to the plaintiff. In this case the appellate court determined that 90 percent was the highest degree of fault that could be allotted to the Village. Consequently, ten percent comparative fault was assessed to Ms. Chambers. Her awards were reduced to reflect this determination.

The only other finding of error on appeal was in the area of future earnings. This is always a somewhat controversial area as it is necessarily speculative. Any attempt to discern the future with certainty is destined to be at best incomplete. Ms. Chambers lost her award of loss of future earnings because she failed to provide evidence that could lead to the reasonable conclusion that she would actually lose any future earnings. Since the beginning of the trial not only had Ms. Chambers continued to work in her previous occupation but she had earned a merit-based promotion as well. The appellate court decided that any finding of loss of future wages was manifestly in error and eliminated this award.

The deference shown to trial courts is finite. There are very real and very reachable limits to how a trial court can find without being overturned. Ms. Arlene Chambers’ awards went beyond the pale. The appellate system did its job and sorted out the manifest errors from the reasonable findings. This case is an example of exactly how the American justice system is supposed to work.

If you have fallen on a public sidewalk or anywhere else and need legal assistance contact the Berniard Law firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005. Let them help you get the money you deserve for your injuries.

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