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Wells v. Town of Delhi

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

April 5, 2017

CHERYL WELLS Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
THE TOWN OF DELHI AND CHAD DEE AND KRISTIE H. MORGAN Defendants-Appellees

         Appealed from the Fifth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Richland, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 43436 Honorable James Mark Stephens, Judge

          LAW OFFICES OF MOSES J. WILLIAMS By: Moses Junior Williams Counsel for Appellant.

          HUDSON, POTTS & BERNSTEIN, L.L.P. By: Johnny R. Huckabay, II By: Robert McCuller Baldwin Counsel for Appellee Town of Delhi.

          COTTON, BOLTON, HOYCHICK & DOUGHTY, L.L.P. By: John Hoychick Jr. Counsel for Appellees Chad Dee Morgan, Kristie H. Morgan, and Louisiana Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company.

          NELSON, ZENTNER, SARTOR & SNELLINGS, LLC By: Thomas G. Zentner, Jr.Counsel for Appellee Louisiana Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company.

          Before BROWN, PITMAN, and STONE, JJ.

          STONE, J.

         The Appellant, Cheryl Wells, [1] appeals the trial court's judgment granting the Appellees', Town of Delhi and Chad and Kristi Morgan, motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, we reverse the ruling of the trial court.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On May 8, 2012, Cheryl Wells ("Wells") was the front seat passenger of a vehicle driven by Natasha Hamilton ("Hamilton") during a heavy thunderstorm that developed without warning. Due to a fallen tree across the road on which she was traveling, Hamilton was forced to take an alternate route onto Charter Street. As the vehicle was traveling on Charter Street, a large limb broke off an oak tree located at 508 Charter Street ("the property"). The limb fell onto Hamilton's vehicle, crushing the roof of the vehicle and striking Wells on the head. As a result of the accident, Wells was rendered a quadriplegic. No other passengers in the vehicle sustained serious injuries.[2]

         The tree involved in the accident was located on the edge of a property line between the home of Chad and Kristi Morgan ("the Morgans") and the right-of-way and street owned by the Town of Delhi ("Delhi"). The roots of the tree protruded underneath the sidewalk and its limbs protruded over the street. Following the accident, Wells filed a lawsuit, pursuant to La. C.C. arts. 2315 and 2317.1, against Delhi and the Morgans (collectively, "the defendants") alleging her injuries were a result of the defective and dying tree on the defendants' property.

         The defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment asserting Wells could not prove the defendants knew or should have known that the tree was defective. Additionally, the defendants asserted the affirmative defense of Act of God, arguing the limb fell because of the violent storm. The trial court granted both motions for summary judgment, finding the following facts undisputed:

1. The tree was located on the property of the Morgans and protruded onto land under the control of Delhi.
2. The tree in question was, in fact, defective, and was suffering from ...

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