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Smart v. Calhoun

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

July 29, 2015

LISA SMART AND ROOSEVELT SMART, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THEIR MINOR CHILD, COURTNEY SMART, AND MIKEL HOLMAN, ON BEHALF OF HIS MINOR CHILD, MICHELE HOLMAN, Plaintiffs-Appellants
v.
RITA E. CALHOUN AND STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants-Appellees

Page 169

Appealed from the Monroe City Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 2013CV01282. Honorable Jefferson B. Joyce, Judge.

PAUL L. HURD, THE LAW FIRM OF EDDIE M. CLARK & ASSOCIATES, By: Eddie M. Clark, Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

HAMMONDS, SILLS, ADKINS & GUICE, By: Neal L. Johnson, Jr., Counsel for Defendants-Appellees.

Before BROWN, WILLIAMS, STEWART, DREW and GARRETT, JJ. BROWN, C.J., dissents with written reasons. DREW, J., dissents for the reasons assigned by C.J. Brown.

OPINION

Page 170

[49,943 La.App. 2 Cir. 1] STEWART, J.

[49,943 La.App. 2 Cir. 2] The plaintiffs filed suit for damages after their daughters were involved in an automobile accident while driving to school. While making a right turn, they collided with the defendant's vehicle, which had made a left turn at the intersection. The trial court denied both parties' motions for summary judgment. After a bench trial, the trial court rendered judgment in favor of the defendant upon concluding that she had completed her left turn and was operating her vehicle within her lawful lane of travel when the accident occurred. The plaintiffs now appeal both the denial of their motion for summary judgment and the trial court's judgment in favor of the defendant. While we find that summary judgment was properly denied, we also find that the trial court erred in concluding that the plaintiff driver was solely at fault in causing the accident. Based on our review of the record, we cast each driver with 50 percent of the fault and award damages as set forth below.

FACTS

On the morning of May 10, 2012, Rita Calhoun (" Rita" ), age 69, and Courtney Smart (" Courtney" ), a minor who had gotten her driver's license on February 2, 2012, were involved in an automobile accident on Highway 165 South (" the highway" ), also referred to as Sterlington Road, just beyond its intersection with Garden Lane and Medical Park Drive in Monroe, Louisiana. On a green light, Rita had taken a left turn onto the highway from Medical Park Drive, and Courtney had taken a right onto the highway from Garden Lane. Medical Park Drive is to the east of the highway, and Garden Lane is opposite on the west side of the highway. Courtney and her passenger, Michele Holman (" Michele" ), were on their way to school, and Rita was on her way to work after having just left her son's medical office. The collision damaged the driver's side rear quarter panel of the Hyundai Elantra that [49,943 La.App. 2 Cir. 3] Courtney was driving and the passenger side front lower corner of Rita's Toyota Avalon.

Courtney's parents, Lisa and Roosevelt Smart, along with Michele's father, Mikel Holman, filed suit against Rita and her insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. They claimed that

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Courtney had turned right from Garden Lane onto the highway when Rita made a left turn without yielding the right of way at the intersection and hit Courtney's vehicle. In her answer, Rita denied the allegations of the petition, and she filed an amended answer in which she alleged Courtney's fault in causing in the accident by turning into her path.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of Rita's liability. They alleged that, as the left-turning motorist, Rita was solely at fault in causing the accident. Thereafter, Rita filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims. Rita asserted that she had completed her left turn and was heading south on the left lane of the highway when Courtney made a right turn from Garden Lane into the left lane of the highway and collided with her. Finding there to be genuine issues of material fact as to how the accident occurred, the trial court denied both parties' motions, and the matter proceeded to a bench trial.

Rita testified that she traveled on Medical Park Drive to the intersection with the highway, where she stopped at the red traffic light before taking a left onto the highway. She recalled a truck at the intersection opposite her with its blinker on, indicating that it was turning right. She stated that there was no other vehicle behind the truck. When the light turned green, Rita waited for the truck to turn before she made a left turn into the lane nearest the [49,943 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] median, namely, the inside lane, of the highway. Even though cross-examination exposed some discrepancies between Rita's testimony and statements made during her deposition and in discovery, Rita remained adamant that she was fully in the inside lane and headed south when Courtney came across into her lane ahead of her. However, Rita gave conflicting testimony as to whether she saw Courtney's vehicle before the accident. Rita described the collision as " just a jolt" and noted that her air bag did not deploy. Rita denied sustaining any injuries, but plaintiffs' counsel impeached her with a release signed by her and her husband purporting to settle her personal injury claim and his property damage claim against the Smarts. The release indicated that GEICO, the Smarts' insurer, settled Rita's claim for $3,200, when the cost of repairs to her vehicle was $1,620. Rita maintained that the release was wrong and that she did not get a check for $3,200.

Courtney testified that she was at the intersection waiting to turn right from Garden Lane onto the highway. She stated that she activated her blinker to signal her intent to turn right. When the light turned green, she turned right heading into the left, inside lane of the highway. Courtney explained that she needed to take a left turn one or two miles up the highway, so she turned into the left lane. She stated that the collision occurred as she was turning and that her vehicle was about halfway inside the left lane of the highway. Courtney testified that she did not see Rita's vehicle prior to the impact.

Courtney's passenger, Michele, testified that she was looking down at her phone. Therefore, her testimony did not shed much light on what [49,943 La.App. 2 Cir. 5] occurred. According to Michele, Courtney took a right turn into the left lane of the highway, and the impact occurred before the turn was completed.

Corporal Carrie Hatcher of the Monroe Police Department responded to the accident scene. Hatcher estimated that the collision occurred about 50 feet south of the intersection. She stated that debris from the accident was located in the inside lane of the ...


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