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Zeno v. Great Southern Coaches of Arkansas, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

May 17, 2017


         Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 560, 053 Honorable Ramon Lafitte, Judge

          MORRIS, DEWETT & SAVOIE, LLC By: B. Trey Morris G. Adam Savoie Counsel for Appellants

          WILKINSON, CARMODY & GILLIAM By: Bobby S. Gilliam Jonathan P. McCartney KOEPPEL CLARK TURNER By: Peter Stephen Koeppel Donesia D. Turner Emma A. Mekinda Counsel for Appellees Great Southern Coaches of Ark., Inc., New Hampshire Ins. Co., and Joseph L. Guidry

          LUNN, IRION, SALLEY, CARLISLE & GARDNER By: Ronald E. Raney Ryan O. Goodwin Counsel for Appellee ANPAC La. Ins. Co.

          Before BROWN, DREW, and MOORE, JJ.

          DREW, J.

         Plaintiffs, Anthony Zeno, Vanessa Zeno, and Mone't C. Zeno, appeal from a summary judgment that dismissed their tort action. We affirm.


         The incident that led to this lawsuit happened in Ohio in the summer of 2011. A group of nearly 50 recent high school graduates affiliated with First Baptist Bossier chartered a tour bus owned by Great Southern Coaches of Arkansas, Inc. ("Great Southern"), and operated by driver Joseph Guidry. At about 11 a.m. on June 3, 2011, the bus was southbound on Interstate 75 when a metal object hit the bus windshield. The object pierced the windshield, narrowly missing Mr. Guidry, and flew through the interior of the bus until it struck Mone't Zeno in the face, seriously injuring her.[1]

         On June 1, 2012, the Zenos filed suit in the First Judicial District Court against Great Southern, Guidry, and their insurer, New Hampshire Insurance Company ("NHIC").[2] After over two years of discovery that included the depositions of numerous witnesses, defendants Great Southern, Guidry, and NHIC filed a motion for summary judgment, urging that plaintiffs could not prove that the movers had any fault in causing the incident.

         The motion was supported by 19 exhibits, including:

• A police report from Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Timothy Wenger. Trooper Wenger responded to the accident and created the lengthy report, which included a diagram of the accident and a list of the bus passengers.
• An affidavit from Trooper Wenger, stating that he had been trained and certified in crash investigation and that, in his opinion, the accident was not the fault of the bus driver.
• Brief excerpts[3] from the depositions of 15 witnesses who were passengers on the bus, including the plaintiff.

         From these excerpts, we learn:

• Ms. Ashley Doucet said that the hole in the bus windshield was "six to eight inches above [the driver's] head"; Valerie Ashby said the hole was about a foot over Guidry's head.
• Ashby said that she didn't notice Guidry driving "fast or slow, " and agreed that it appeared that Guidry was driving "at a normal rate of speed."
• Dana Howard described the accident:
We were driving along just, you know, traveling, using phones or watching a movie. I'm not sure what was happening right at the same time. All of a sudden, Mr. Joe said, "Oh, that - I think a bird must have hit us or something." He very calmly pulled the bus over to the -the road. After we saw what had happened, we were just very thankful that he kept a calm head and took care of us because it could have been really bad.
Ms. Howard also said that the bus was "not really" noisy and was "never really a rowdy bus like middle school."
• Passenger/chaperone Wendy Walker, who had been a school bus driver for 14 years, said that Guidry handled the situation "better than I probably ever would have done in my life. I probably would have panicked."
• Passenger/chaperone Paul Reiser was at the front of the bus when the incident happened. Reiser said:
I got up front. I'm sitting on the steps putting in the -changing out the DVD. I see the little shadow come over, so I duck my head. You hear the burst. You feel the glass and stuff fall on your head. So I immediately looked up, looked over to Mr. Joe and he was like - he was very impressive. I mean, he was totally calm. I saw him - everything kind of went into slow motion at that point. … So I saw him like - he was looking at the - he was looking at his side mirrors, he was - you know, just had total control of the vehicle, you know, immediately began slowing down the vehicle and he was checking his side and he pulled over to the side of the road, pulled over to the shoulder. I expected to hear screaming. I expected to stand up and turn around and see, you know, just catastrophe, but actually, it was just really quiet. And so I turned around and saw just a bunch of quiet, scared kids and nothing seemed to be happening. So I'm like, "we made it." And then someone ran to the front of the bus and said 'call 911, " you know, so I called 911.
• Josh Ashby said, "I think [Guidry] did a great job of - when it happened, so - I mean, he pulled over. He didn't lose control. He didn't panic."
• Kara Forbis, Kristina Rowe, and Robert Stephenson said that there was never a time prior to the accident that they felt unsafe on the bus.
• Stephenson said that their bus was traveling in the outside lane, and that he "vaguely remember[ed]" a "larger 18-wheeler of some type going past us[.]"
• Mone't Zeno said that there was never a time prior to the accident when she didn't feel safe and that she was sitting three rows from the back seat on the ...

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