The Complexities of Multi-Accident Lawsuits: Court of Appeals Vacates Judgment in Avoyelles Parish Case

A very recent Louisiana Court of Appeals decision arises from a lawsuit filed by Lloyd and Dotris Bordelon to recover damages stemming from a pedestrian-vehicle accident that followed a vehicle-vehicle collision.

The first accident occurred in September 2003, when John Vercher and his wife were going north on Highway One in Avoyelles Parish to Mr. Bordelon’s house. Mr. Desselle was also going north on the highway and was attempting to pass the Verchers, unaware that Mr. Vercher was going to turn left into Mr. Bordelon’s driveway.The vehicles collided. Mr. Bordelon came out of his house to see what happened. After determining no one was hurt, Mr. Bordelon walked out to the highway to direct traffic. Mr. Bordelon reported that he heard someone asking him to move the vehicles, at which point he turned around and said they should not be moved. When Mr. Bordelon approached Mr. Vercher’s car, it lurched forward and hit Mr. Bordelon, throwing him into the post of his carport and an aluminum building. Mr Bordelon sustained injuries to his brain, face, and stomach. The Bordelons filed suit against both Mr. Vercher and his insurer and Mr. Desselle and his insurer for injuries he sustained as a result of the initial crash and resulting collison. The lawsuit against Mr. Vercher was dismissed prior to trial. After trial the court found that Mr. Desselle was one hundred percent at fault for the collision between him and Mr. Vercher and that both Mr. Desselle and Mr. Vercher were fifty percent at fault for Mr. Bordelon’s injuries, ordering Mr. Desselle and his insurer to pay the entire $50,000 with no reference to the assignment of fault. On the first appeal, the trial court executed a judgment allocating fault and damages equally between Mr. Desselle and Mr. Vercher. Mr. Desselle argued in this appeal that the trial court should not have found Mr. Desselle even fifty percent at fault for Mr. Bordelon’s injuries.

The defendants reasoning for reversing the judgments include the separate nature of the two accidents, the time and distance between them, and the fact that Mr. Desselle owed no duty to Mr. Bordelon.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. Desselle and vacated both judgments. Under La.Civ.Code art. 2315 (A), “every act whatever of man that causes damages to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.” A duty-risk analysis is applied to determine whether liability exists under this law, wherein four questions are asked:

First, did the conduct in question (here, Mr. Desselle’s actions in causing the first collision) bring about the harm that occurred?

Second, did the defendants owe a duty to the plaintiff?

Third, was the duty breached?

Fourth, was the risk, and harm caused within the scope of the duty that was breached?

In this case, there is no evidence to dispute that two distinct accidents occurred–a two vehicle accident and a vehicle-pedestrian accident. If the duty risk analysis is applied to the second accident, the appropriate conclusion is that Mr. Desselle is not liable for Mr. Bordelon’s injuries. The proximate and legal cause of the second accident was Mr. Vercher’s operation of the vehicle. Even if Mr. Vercher was trying to move his car as instructed by Mr. Desselle, the request did not cause the accident. Even if a duty could be established on the part of Mr. Desselle, Mr. Bordelon being struck by the Vercher vehicle is not within the scope of that duty. After the first accident, Mr. Vercher’s vehicle was stopped and remained stopped for a period of time until he inexplicably struck Mr. Bordelon. Even though the witness accounts conflict somewhat–all agree that Mr. Vercher came to a complete stop and that some time lapsed before Mr. Bordelon was hit.

When the trial court imputed liability to Mr. Desselle they found that he was negligent in telling Mr. Vercher to move his vehicle, knowing that Mr. Vercher was in shock immediately following the first accident. The Court found that Mr. Desselle owed a duty to innocent people in the area and breached that duty in telling Mr. Vercher to move his car. The Court of Appeals absolutely disagreed, and found that Mr. Desselle was not the legal cause of the second accident, because undisputedly, it did not occur until after the first accident was over, the vehicles had stopped, and time passed. Mr. Desselle was in the road directing traffic at the time the second accident occurred and Mr. Bordelon’s injuries only resulted from the negligent actions of Mr. Vercher.

In accident injury law, damages are only recoverable if the defendants’ actions are a legal cause of the injuries sustained. This requires proving the elements of negligence, the most difficult of which is typically proximate cause, or the proximity of the behavior in question to the injury. An act that is too far removed from the injury is not a legal cause. An attorney who is an expert in these types of cases will be able to know what it will takes to prove negligence in each particular situation.

If you were injured in an accident and think that you may be entitled to damages call us at 1-866-574-8005.

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