CHARLES FALCON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF INTERDICT ANYA MARIE FALCON
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, GLENN PATRICK, EDWARD J. GAY PLANTING & MANUFACTURING CO. AND ABC INSURANCE COMPANY AND XYZ INSURANCE COMPANY
Appealed from the 18th Judicial District Court in and for the Parish of Iberville, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 65747. Honorable Alvin Batiste, Jr., Judge.
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BRENT P. FREDERICK, MICHAEL T. BECKERS, BATON ROUGE, LA AND MICHAEL A. COLOMB, BATON ROUGE, LA AND ANTONIO M. CLAYTON, MICHAEL P. FRUGE', PORT ALLEN, LA, ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE CHARLES FALCON AND ON BEHALF OF THE INTERDICT ANYA FALCON.
BRENDA H. VERBOIS, BATON ROUGE, LA, ATTORNEY FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION & DEVELOPMENT.
F. BARRY MARIONNEAUX, F. CHARLES MARIONNEAUX, PLAQUEMINE, LA, ATTORNEYS FOR DEFENDANT, GLENN PATRICK.
CHARLES L. CHASSAIGNAC, IV, BATON ROUGE, LA, ATTORNEY FOR DEFENDANTS, GLENN PATRICK AND STATE FARM INSURANCE COMPANY.
CHRISTOPHER A. MASON, STACEY MOAK, CHRISTOPHER W. STIDMAN, JAMES L. HILBURN, BATON ROUGE, LA, ATTORNEYS FOR DEFENDANTS, EDWARD J. GAY PLANTING & MANUFACTURING CO. AND FARM BUREAU INSURANCE COMPANY.
BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, McDONALD, McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ. HIGGINBOTHAM, J., CONCURS IN THE RESULT AND ASSIGNS ADDITIONAL REASONS. McCLENDON, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part. McDONALD, J., concurring in part, and dissenting in part.
[2013 1404 La.App. 1 Cir. 3]
This is an appeal by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) of a judgment that held it was 30 percent at fault in causing an accident and the resulting injuries to Anya Marie Falcon, an interdict as a result of the injuries sustained in the accident. Ms. Falcon is represented in this matter by her father, Charles Falcon, in his capacity as her curator, and also in the capacity as the tutor of his minor grandchildren, who were also awarded damages for the injuries, sustained by their mother. DOTD assigns error to the jury's assessment of fault to it in causing the accident and the resulting injuries, as well as to the JNOV/additur granted by the trial court, increasing the damages awarded by the jury. For the following reasons, we affirm the jury's assessment of fault to DOTD, as well as the additional damages awarded by the trial court's granting the JNOV.
On September 13, 2007, at approximately 5:40 a.m., twenty-six-year-old Anya Marie Falcon was driving her 1998 Honda Accord sedan with her three children as passengers (six-year-old Abigail M. Falcon, three-year-old Nikki L. Hanchett, and one-year-old Landon P. Hanchett), in an easterly direction on St. Louis Road (a/k/a Tenant Road or La. Hwy. 992-3), just south of Plaquemine, in Iberville Parish. Ms. Falcon was on her way to drop her children off at before-school care and daycare, and then proceeding to her job at Georgia Gulf. As Ms. Falcon entered the " T-shaped" intersection of St. Louis Road and La. Hwy. 1, her vehicle was struck broadside by a 2002 Ford F-150 pickup truck operated by Moses Williams that was travelling in the right southbound lane of La. Hwy. 1, approaching its intersection with St. Louis Road.
At the time of impact, it was not yet daylight. It was dark and raining, the roads were wet, and both vehicles involved had the headlights on. At the point of impact, La. Hwy. 1 consists of five lanes of travel, two southbound lanes, two northbound lanes, and a center turn lane. The intersection of St. Louis Road and La. Hwy. 1 is controlled by a stop sign for
motorists travelling on St. Louis Road toward Hwy. 1; there are no controlling signs for motorists travelling
on La. Hwy. 1, the favored roadway, which has a [2013 1404 La.App. 1 Cir. 4] posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour. The record established that the stop sign was located approximately 34 feet before the intersection, primarily for purposes of visibility.
At the time of the accident, a large " billboard" political sign, measuring sixteen (16) feet in width by eight (8) feet in height, promoting the candidacy of Glenn Patrick for the office of tax assessor for Iberville Parish, had been placed along the shoulder of La. Hwy. 1, just north of its intersection with St. Louis Road. The large sign was on the property of Edward J. Gay Planting and Manufacturing Co. (Gay), and extended two feet into the state's (DOTD's) right of way along La. Hwy. 1, in violation of La. R.S. 48.461.2. The placement of the large sign was also in violation of La. R.S. 48:347, which specifically addresses the placement of political campaign signs.
[2013 1404 La.App. 1 Cir. 5] It is alleged that the placement of the large sign obstructed Ms. Falcon's view, such that she was unable to see the oncoming vehicle driven by Moses Williams, despite having stopped at the stop sign prior to entering the roadway.
Following the accident, Moses Williams, and Ms. Falcon's three children, whose injuries were relatively minor, were treated and released from River West Medical Center. However, Ms. Falcon, who sustained severe injuries, was transported by ambulance and hospitalized at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge. Ms. Falcon remained In a
coma for several weeks, during which she was unable to speak or assist in her care. Following her hospitalization, after coming out of the coma, Ms. Falcon was transferred and confined to Touro Medical Center in New Orleans for rehabilitation, evaluation, and continuing treatment of severe brain injuries. She also sustained other physical injuries that will be discussed in further detail later herein. However, her most significant injury was a severe and permanent closed head injury, which left her with the mind of a child, requiring supervision and monitoring, and also resulting in her interdiction. She now lives with her mother, and no longer has custody of nor lives with her children. Her daughters now live with their maternal grandfather (the plaintiff herein) and his wife, and her son lives with a cousin.
By all accounts, the record establishes that prior to the accident, Ms. Falcon was a beautiful, intelligent, vibrant, gainfully employed single mother, with a happy family life. The injuries she sustained as a result of the accident permanently rendered her a " shell" of her former self.
PERTINENT PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On October 17, 2007, Charles E. Falcon, individually
and in his capacity as the natural curator of his interdicted daughter, filed a
petition for damages naming as [2013 1404 La.App. 1 Cir. 6] defendants DOTD, Glenn Patrick, Gay, and their insurers, Mr. Falcon also asserted loss of consortium claims on behalf of Ms. Falcon's-three minor children. Mr. Falcon alleged that the cause of the accident was the obstruction created by the political sign within the right of way of La. Hwy. 1, which rendered it impossible for Ms. Falcon to see any southbound vehicle, despite stopping at the stop sign prior to entering the roadway.
Following extensive discovery and numerous pre-trial motions, hearings, decisions, and appeals, a nine-day jury trial began on April 16, 2012. After the trial, the jury concluded that all parties, including Ms. Falcon, bore some responsibility for causing the accident and the resulting injuries. The jury determined that the political sign created an unreasonably dangerous condition, as it was an obstruction of vision for motorists travelling east on St. Louis Road, approaching the intersection with La. Hwy. 1, rendering it impossible to see any vehicles approaching the intersection. The jury assessed 50 percent fault to Glenn Patrick for placing the large sign near the roadway and within DOTD's right of way, in violation of law, and 30 percent fault to DOTD, which had actual notice of the placement of the large sign in its right of way and failed to remove the large sign and eliminate the sight obstruction created thereby. The jury also assessed 10 percent fault to the landowner (Gay), for failing to remove the large sign, and 10 percent fault to Ms. Falcon, for failing to yield to oncoming traffic when she reached the intersection at La. Hwy. 1, despite having stopped at the stop sign, which was located 35.9 feet prior to that intersection. The jury awarded $575,000.00 in general damages. A judgment on the jury verdict was signed on May 23, 2012. A revised judgment on the jury verdict (correcting the addition of the damages awarded by the jury) was signed on November 21, 2012.
Following the jury verdict, Mr. Falcon filed a motion for JNOV, and in the alternative, additur, which motion was granted by the trial court, resulting in an increase to the amount of general damages by $3 million, to $3,575,000.00. Judgment in accordance therewith was rendered on October 22, 2012.
[2013 1404 La.App. 1 Cir. 7] DOTD'S APPEAL AND ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR
DOTD has suspensively appealed both the revised judgment of the jury verdict as well as the judgment reflecting the trial court's grant of the JNOV/additur. On appeal, DOTD asserts that (1) the jury committed manifest error in finding DOTD breached its duty to Ms. Falcon given that she " had over 20 feet of unobstructed view as she traveled down the inferior roadway to the intersection with the favored roadway; " (2) the jury manifestly erred in finding Ms. Falcon was only 10 percent at fault when " she had 20 feet of unobstructed view and failed to yield to oncoming traffic; " (3) the jury manifestly erred in finding DOTD had notice of an unreasonably dangerous condition and failed to ...