APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH
OF ST. JAMES, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 35, 607, DIVISION
"B" HONORABLE THOMAS J. KLIEBERT, JR., JUDGE
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, JONATHAN VINCE AND BRANDI
VINCE Kirk A. Guidry Randolph A. Piedrahita B. Scott Andrews
Kris A. Perret
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, DALE KOONTZ Marc L.
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE
INSURANCE COMPANY Matthew W. Pryor
composed of Susan M. Chehardy, Marc E. Johnson, and Stephen
M. CHEHARDY CHIEF JUDGE
Jonathan and Brandi Vince, appeal a June 26, 2014 judgment in
favor of defendants, Dale Koontz and State Farm Automobile
Insurance Company, dismissing the Vinces' personal injury
claims arising out of an automobile accident. For the reasons
that follow, we affirm this judgment of the district court.
November 11, 2012, Mr. Vince was driving a pickup truck when
he collided with a SUV towing a large boat on U.S. Highway 61
in St. James Parish. The SUV was being driven by Mr. Koontz.
January 4, 2013, Mr. Vince and his wife, Brandi Vince, filed
suit seeking damages for their injuries sustained as a result
of Mr. Koontz's negligence. Mr. Koontz's insurer, State
Farm Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"),
answered this petition, denying the Vinces' allegations
and averring that the accident was caused by the sole and
exclusive negligence of Mr. Vince, or, alternatively, that
Mr. Vince's negligence contributed to the accident. Mr.
Koontz filed a reconventional demand, likewise alleging that
the accident was caused solely by the negligence of Mr. Vince
and seeking damages for his injuries.
merits of the Vinces' claims against defendants, the
matter proceeded to a jury trial on June 4 and 5, 2014. The
parties stipulated that Mr. Koontz's reconventional
claims would be tried by the judge, but that the jury's
determination regarding Mr. Vince's liability would be
controlling in Mr. Koontz's reconventional demand, with
the judge only assessing Mr. Koontz's damages should the
jury find Mr. Vince liable. The jury returned a verdict in
favor of Mr. Koontz. According to the verdict form, the jury
determined that Mr. Koontz was negligent, but that his
negligence was not the proximate cause of the accident.
Following the instructions on the verdict form, the jury did
not address any remaining issues, including the issues
regarding Mr. Vince's negligence, or any allocation of
fault between Mr. Vince and Mr. Koontz.
26, 2014, in accordance with the jury's verdict, the
district court entered a judgment dismissing the Vinces'
claims in the main demand with prejudice and at their
costs. The court deferred ruling on Mr.
Koontz's reconventional demand until such time as the
parties submitted a motion pertaining to a proposed judgment.
7, 2014, the Vinces filed a motion for judgment
notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV") and/or a
motion for new trial in which they argued that the verdict
form on which Mr. Koontz was found to be negligent, but not a
proximate cause of the accident, was a mistake of law. On
August 14, 2014, the district court denied the JNOV motion,
but granted the Vinces' motion for new trial. In its
written reasons for judgment, the court found that the jury
was confused regarding causation and that the jury
instructions were improperly structured in a way that
precluded the jury from reaching the issue of liability of
Mr. Vince, which, in turn, precluded the court from rendering
a verdict on the reconventional demand in accordance with the
stipulation of the parties.
Koontz sought supervisory review of this ruling. On November
20, 2014, this Court granted relief, finding "nothing
unduly confusing about either the jury instructions or the
jury verdict form." Vince v. Koontz, 14-709
(La.App. 5 Cir. 11/20/14) (unpublished writ disposition),
writ denied, 14-2682 (La. 3/27/15), 162 So.3d 384.
This Court vacated the judgment granting a new trial,
reinstating the June 26, 2014 judgment. Id. On April
10, 2015, the Vinces appealed that judgment.
December 9, 2015, this Court dismissed that appeal for lack
of jurisdiction. See Vince v. Koontz, 15-301
(La.App. 5 Cir. 12/09/15), 182 So.3d 333. We found the June
26, 2014 judgment was not final because it addressed the
Vinces' claims in the main demand, but did not resolve
Mr. Koontz's claims in reconvention. Id. at 335.
Because this partial judgment had not been designated final
in accordance with La. C.C.P. art. 1915(B), we were without
jurisdiction to consider the appeal pursuant to La. C.C.P.
art. 1911(B). Id. We remanded the matter for the
district court to either issue a judgment on the
reconventional demand or designate the June 26, 2014 partial
judgment as a final judgment for the purpose of an immediate
appeal pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 1915(B). Id. at
remand, pursuant to a joint motion by the parties to
designate the judgment as final, the district court issued an
order on June 27, 2016 designating the June 26, 2014 judgment
as a final judgment in accordance with La. C.C.P. art.
1915(B). The Vinces now come back before this Court in this
November of 2012, Mr. Vince was employed as an operator at
the Noranda Alumina plant in Gramercy in St. James Parish.
With his wife Brandi, Mr. Vince resided in nearby
Prairieville in Ascension Parish. In his daily commute to and
from work, Mr. Vince traveled along U.S. Highway 61 (a/k/a
"Airline Highway"), a four-lane divided highway.
Located along this stretch of highway is the St. James Boat
Club, which maintains a boat launch that provides water
access at the confluence of Conway Bayou and the Blind River.
The club is located on the northbound side of Airline and is
accessed by a small road that intersects the highway. For
traffic leaving the boat club, this intersection is
controlled by a stop sign. When approaching the boat club
from the south, just before the club, Airline Highway passes
over the Blind River via a short bridge. Mr. Vince explained
that law enforcement often sets up speed traps around this
location, where the speed limit is 65 miles per hour. So he
routinely slows down to at least the speed limit every time
he passes over the bridge just before reaching the boat club.
4:45 p.m. on November 11, 2012, a Sunday, Mr. Vince had
completed his shift at the plant and was heading home in his
2002 white Dodge Ram pickup truck. He did not have his
seatbelt on. While proceeding northbound in the left lane on
Airline, he approached the bridge just before the boat club,
so he slowed down to the speed limit. As he did, he observed
a GMC Yukon XL Denali towing a large boat leaving the boat
club. The vehicle was stopped at the stop sign waiting to
merge on to Airline Highway. As Mr. Vince started to pass
over the bridge, he glanced down at his cell phone to check a
fantasy football score. When he glanced back up, he was
three-quarters of the way across the bridge and noticed that
the Denali had pulled out onto the highway, blocking both
northbound lanes. He estimated that he was 30 or 40 yards
from the Denali when he noticed it in his path. Mr. Vince
quickly determined he could not safely avoid the truck and
boat: to the left was oncoming southbound traffic and to the
right was water. So he slammed on his brakes.
November 11, 2012, Mr. Koontz, his cousin, and his two
children spent the day on the water in Mr. Koontz's new
27-foot cabin cruiser that he had purchased earlier that
summer to replace his 17-foot fishing boat. This was Mr.
Koontz's first time using his new boat at the St. James
boat launch. Mr. Koontz and his family put in at the St.
James Boat Club launch around ...