BEFORE: SHORTESS, LANIER, CRAIN, JJ.
COURT OF APPEAL OF LOUISIANA, FIRST CIRCUIT
ON APPEAL FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, ST. MARY PARISH, LOUISIANA, HONORABLE JOHN M. DUHE, JR., JUDGE. 1983.LA.960
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE SHORTESS
On December 21, 1978, a 1965 International Harvester van, equipped with oil filed testing equipment and owned by French Jordan, Inc. (plaintiff), was involved in an intersectional collision on Amelia Road in St. Mary Parish. Plaintiff's vehicle was unique because equipment was installed in it which made it a mobile oil field pipe inspection unit. As it was equipped, plaintiff could go to the customer's site and do work rather than require the customer to bring the work to its premises. A truck owned by Oilfield Sales and Service, Inc. (defendant) and driven by its employee, Ulyses I. Bias, failed to obey a stop sign and struck plaintiff's unit. Liability was not a serious issue.
The trial judge found that the van was rendered a total loss, and he awarded plaintiff $1,200.00 for it, based on the estimated fair market value of the van at the time of the accident. He also found that plaintiff was entitled to recover the sums of $31,113.29 and $6,991.89 as the costs of labor and materials, respectively, which plaintiff expended to remove the relatively undamaged inspection equipment from the damaged van to replace it in another van. However, the court assessed plaintiff a 50% discount factor for "reasonable depeciation" to the labor and materials, so the total property damage award was only $20,252.59.
The court also found that the loss of income while the replacement van was being outfitted was approximately $25,000.00 per month and $75,000.00 for the entire period. The court also determined, based on the income and expense figures presented at trial, that plaintiff's profit margin on the $75,000.00 would have been 16%. Based on this finding, the court awarded plaintiff $12,000.00 for lost profits.
The total judgment for plaintiff, including an amount of $206.33 for towing charges, was $32,458.92 together with legal interest from March 23, 1979, until paid. Defendants were taxed for costs and expert witness fees., Plaintiff perfected this appeal, urging three assignments of error:
(1) the trial court erred when it discounted by 50% the labor and materials costs incurred by plaintiff to remove the pipe inspection equipment from the demolished van and remount it in the replacement van;
(2) the trial court erred when it reduced plaintiff's loss of income by assessing plaintiff 84% for expenses; and
(3) the trial court erred when it refused to admit the testimony of Dr. Randolph Rice, an economist.
In determining damages, the trier of fact is accorded much discretion, especially where the facts of the case preclude a precise computation of damages. Emerson v. Empire Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 393 So.2d 691 (La.1981); Boswell v. Roy O. Martin Lumber Co., Inc., 363 So.2d 506 (La.1978); Hymel v. Tom Alexander Brokerage Co., 348 So.2d 104 (La.App.4th Cir.1977), writ denied 350 So.2d 894 (La.1977). No mechanical rule of determining damages is to be applied; the quantum in each case must be determined considering the facts and circumstances of that case. Coleman v. Victor, 326 So.2d 344 (La.1976); Kalmn, Inc. v. Empiregas Corp., 406 So.2d 276 (La.App.3rd Cir.1981). Although trial judges are granted great discretion in determining damage awards, these awards must be made in accordance with law. Cenac v. Duplantis Moving & Storage Co., 407 So.2d 424 (La.App.1st Cir.1981). The proper goal of a damage award is to restore the plaintiff, as closely as possible, to the position which he would have occupied had the accident never occurred. Coleman, 326 So.2d at 346; Kalmn, 406 So.2d at 281; Williams v. Louisiana Machinery Co., Inc., 387 So.2d 8 (La.App.3rd Cir.1980).
DAMAGES FOR PIPE TESTING UNIT
As stated, the vehicle in question was rather unique in that equipment had been installed in it which enabled plaintiff to perform on-site inspections of oil field piping materials. Comparable vehicles did not exist, and the trial court found that it was unable to approximate the value of the pipe testing unit as a whole. It therefore awarded plaintiff $1,200.00 for the loss of the van alone. This figure obtained from Edward Fontenot, defendant's witness, was accepted by the trial court as the accurate fair market value of the van on the date of the accident. Based ...