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Ritchey v. State Farm Mutual Automotive Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 15, 2017

JAMES AUSTIN RITCHEY
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOTIVE INSURANCE COMPANY AND DAWN BONVILLAIN

         ON APPEAL FROM THE NINETEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT NUMBER C635322, SECTION 24, PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE STATE OF LOUISIANA HONORABLE R. MICHAEL CALDWELL, JUDGE

          David Christopher Whitmore Lawrence Blake Jones Stephen Francis Armbruster New Orleans, Louisiana Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant James A. Ritchey

          John T. Roethele Megan E. Perkins Denham Springs, Louisiana Counsel for Defendants-Appellees State Farm Mutual Automotive Insurance Company and Dawn Bonvillain

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McDONALD AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          CHUTZ, J.

         This is an appeal from a summary judgment dismissing plaintiff-appellant, James A. Ritchey's (Mr. Ritchey), personal injury suit against defendants-appellees, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) and Dawn Bonvillain (Ms. Bonvillain). For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This litigation arises from a vehicular accident that occurred at the intersection of Farrel and Kaliste Saloom Roads in Lafayette, Louisiana. Shortly before 12:36 p.m. on November 27, 2013, Mr. Ritchey was traveling west on Farrel Road, which is controlled by a stop sign at its intersection with Kaliste Saloom. When he stopped at the stop sign, the traffic at the intersection was congested, with multiple cars in the left-turn lane on Kaliste Saloom waiting to turn onto Farrel Road. Mr. Ritchey intended to go straight across Kaliste Saloom and continue west on Farrel Road. He proceeded into the intersection when the driver of the first vehicle in the left-turn lane on Kaliste Saloom "waved him out." Mr. Ritchey was unfamiliar with the intersection and did not realize there was a traffic lane to the right of the left-turn lane. He did not see Ms. Bonvillain's vehicle prior to the collision.

         At approximately the same time, Ms. Bonvillain was proceeding southbound on Kaliste Saloom, which was the favored roadway, at an estimated speed of 25-35 m.p.h. There was no traffic control device on Kaliste Saloom at its intersection with Farrel Road. Ms. Bonvillain was driving a vehicle owned by her employer, State Farm, and was returning to work after lunch. As she approached the intersection, she first saw Mr. Ritchey's vehicle as it emerged from in front of the vehicles waiting in the left-turn lane and entered her lane of traffic from the left. At that point, she was approximately half-way past the first vehicle in the turn-lane. According to her deposition testimony, she quickly applied her brakes, but was unable to avoid colliding with the rear, passenger-side of Mr. Ritchey's vehicle.

         Ms. Bonvillain placed a 911 call at 12:36 p.m., immediately after the accident. Both Mr. Ritchey and Ms. Bonvillain indicated to the responding police officer that they were not injured. The officer issued a traffic citation to Mr. Ritchey for failure to yield the right-of-way at an intersection controlled by a stop sign. Mr. Ritchey testified in his deposition that Ms. Bonvillain was present on the scheduled court date for his ticket, and he assumed she spoke to the prosecutor on his behalf since the charge was dropped. Ms. Bonvillain was not issued a traffic citation.

         Mr. Ritchey thereafter filed this personal injury suit in the 19th Judicial District Court against State Farm and Ms. Bonvillain seeking to recover personal injury and property damages. In his petition, Mr. Ritchey alleged Ms. Bonvillain was negligent in "driving in a reckless and careless manner, failing to see what she should have seen, failing to maintain proper control and lookout, failing to apply brakes or take evasive action to avoid a collision when she had the last clear chance, [and] failing to act as a reasonable and prudent person under the circumstances."

         After answering the petition, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of Mr. Ritchey's claims on the grounds that he would be unable to "meet his burden of proving that Dawn Bonvillain caused or contributed to the accident." In opposing the motion for summary judgment, Mr. Ritchey argued genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether Ms. Bonvillain was comparatively at fault for failing to take "reasonable steps" and not exercising "the very slightest of care" in avoiding the accident.

          Following a hearing, the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed Mr. Ritchey's suit with prejudice. Mr. Ritchey now appeals.

         SUMMARY ...


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