WAYNE D. LAGRAPPE, ET AL.
PROGRESSIVE SECURITY INSURANCE CO., ET AL
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
APPEAL FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 2011-5673. HONORABLE RICHARD WILSON, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Aaron Broussard, Broussard & Hart, Lake Charles, LA, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES: Wayne D. LaGrappe, Jean Ann LaGrappe.
Robert C. McCorquodale, In-House Counsel, Lake Charles, LA, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: Sheriff Tony Mancuso, in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.
Todd M. Ammons, Stockwell, Sievert, Viccellio, Clements & Shaddock, L.L.P., Lake Charles, LA, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS: Sheriff Tony Mancuso, in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, Ace American Insurance Company.
Court composed of Marc T. Amy, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and Billy Howard Ezell, Judges.
[14-720 La.App. 3 Cir. 1]
The defendant sheriff appeals the judgment rendered in favor of the plaintiffs for injuries they sustained when their vehicle was rear-ended on Interstate 210 (I-210) in Lake Charles after a sheriff's deputy blocked both eastbound lanes of I-210 for a funeral procession to merge onto the interstate. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment.
On December 13, 2010, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office Funeral Division was escorting a funeral procession from Johnson's Funeral Home in Lake Charles, Louisiana to Dry Creek, Louisiana. The funeral procession left the funeral home and traveled north on Lake Street until it reached College Street/I-210. At College Street, the funeral procession turned east onto College Street then proceeded up the interstate entrance from College Street. A deputy was assigned to control traffic on the interstate as the funeral procession merged onto the interstate.
At the same time, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne LaGrappe were traveling east on I-210 and approaching the Lake Street exit. Mr. LaGrappe was driving. As they approached the exit, Mr. LaGrappe saw a funeral procession turning from Lake
Street onto College Street. He then noticed brake lights on vehicles ahead of them beginning to appear. Traffic ahead of the LaGrappes slowed and came to a stop. Mr. LaGrappe also slowed and brought his vehicle to a stop on the crest of the Lake Street overpass. Mr. LaGrappe left space between his vehicle and the vehicles stopped in front of him, so that traffic coming from behind could see him. After coming to a stop, he turned on his flashers. From the top of the overpass, Mr. LaGrappe observed that all traffic ahead of him was stopped. Mr. LaGrappe [14-720 La.App. 3 Cir. 2] also saw that the funeral procession was proceeding up the entrance on to the interstate. After briefly observing the funeral procession, Mr. LaGrappe looked in his rearview mirror and saw a white van approaching from the rear; their vehicle was then was struck from behind.
The white van, a 2003 Ford Econoline van, was owned by Doc's Sight and Sound and operated by Conor English. Mr. English had completed one job for Doc's earlier that morning and was headed to another job when the accident occurred. Mr. English had no recollection of the accident and could not provide any information as to why or how he struck the LaGrappes' vehicle.
The LaGrappes' vehicle was pushed forward into the vehicle in front of them and severely damaged. The right side of their vehicle was pushed inward onto Mrs. LaGrappe, and jaws of life were required to extricate her from the vehicle. Both Mr. and Mrs. LaGrappe suffered injuries in the accident. Fortunately, none of their injuries were life threatening, and with hard work and perseverance, they were able to return to a fairly normal, but modified lifestyle, of what they enjoyed before the accident. Both of the LaGrappes will be affected by their injuries for the rest of their lives.
The LaGrappes filed suit against Mr. English, Doc's Sight and Sound and its insurer, as well as the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff (the Sheriff) and its insurer, ACE American Insurance Company, seeking to recover damages for the above injuries. The claims against English, Doc's Sight and Sound, and their insurer were resolved prior to trial. Beginning January 13, 2014, the LaGrappes' claims against the Sheriff and ACE were tried to a jury. At the trial, ten fact witnesses testified and two traffic reconstruction experts testified, Michael Gillen for the LaGrappes and Michael Sunseri for the Sheriff. After deliberating, the jury assessed 65% fault [14-720 La.App. 3 Cir. 3] for the accident to the Sheriff and 35% to Mr. English. The jury awarded Mr. LaGrappe his medical expenses of $25,637.43, and $70,000.00 in general damages, consisting of $50,000.00 for past and future physical pain and suffering; $10,000.00 for past and future loss of enjoyment of life; and $10,000.00 for past and future emotional distress and mental anguish. The jury awarded Mrs. LaGrappe $34,156.52 in medical expenses and $333,000.00 in general damages designated as follows: $200,000.00 for past and future physical pain and suffering; $80,000.00 for past and future loss of enjoyment of life; $45,000.00 for past and future emotional distress and mental anguish; $4,000.00 for disfigurement; and $4,000.00 for permanent disability.
The Sheriff and Ace appealed the judgment.
ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR
On appeal, the Sheriff and ACE assign the following seven errors with the trial court proceeding and its judgment.
1. The Trial Court committed legal error in refusing to instruct the jury in
accordance with Petty v. State Farm [Mutual Automotive Insurance Co., 06-1069 (La.App. 4 Cir. 2/7/07), 952 So.2d 767], Viator v. Gilbert, 206 So.2d 106 [(La.App. 4 Cir.), writs refused, 251 La. 1047, 1048, 208 So.2d 323; award of damages amended by 253 La. 81, 216 So.2d 821 (1968)]; Gandy v. Arrant, 50 So.2d 676 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1951); and Hernandez v. Pan American Fire & Casualty Co., 157 So.2d 923 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1963), warranting de novo review.
2. The Trial Court committed legal error in allowing the introduction of [the Sheriff's] Standard Operating Procedures into evidence, when:
a. the Procedures are directly contrary to statutory law, and;
[14-720 La.App. 3 Cir. 4] b. the Procedures impose a higher duty of care upon the Sheriff than that imposed by law,
warranting de novo review.
3. The Trial Court committed legal error in instructing the jury that the Sheriff's violation of its own procedures could be considered negligence when what was prohibited by those procedures was otherwise allowed by law, warranting de novo review.
4. The jury was clearly wrong in assessing any fault to the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office for causing this accident.
5. Alternatively, the jury was clearly wrong in assessing 65% of fault to the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office for causing this accident.
6. The jury abused its discretion in awarding Wayne LaGrappe $70,000.00 in general [damages] sustained in this accident.
7. The jury abused its discretion in awarding Jean LaGrappe $333,000.00 in general [damages] sustained in this accident.
The Sheriff's Funeral Procession Standard Operating Procedures
The Sheriff argues it was legal error for the trial court to allow the procedures to be introduced into evidence. We cannot overturn a trial court's determination that evidence is admissible unless it constitutes clear error. Wegener v. Lafayette Ins. Co., 10-0810, 10-811 (La. 3/15/11), 60 So.3d 1220.
Citing various statutes, the Sheriff argues that when not responding to an emergency, his actions and the actions of his deputies must be gauged by an ordinary standard of care. The Sheriff contends, however, that his procedures for funeral processions establish a higher duty of care than the law requires. Therefore, he asserts it was error for the trial court to admit the procedures into evidence and ...