RONALD LEE STUTES, ET UX.
GREENWOOD MOTOR LINES, INC., ET AL.
FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
LAFAYETTE, NO. C-20131119 HONORABLE DAVID MICHAEL SMITH,
Alston Johnson III Marshall M. Redmon Virginia Y. Dodd
KevinW. Welsh Phelps Dunbar LLP COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: American Guarantee and Liability
R. David Robert B. Brahan, Jr. Broussard & David COUNSEL
FOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES: Ronald Lee Stutes Carroll Lynn
Marshall Montgomery Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR
PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES: Ronald Lee Stutes Carroll Lynn Stutes
Landry Attorney General Laura L. Putnam Assistant Attorney
General Louisiana Department of Justice COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT-APPELLEE: State of Louisiana, through the
Department of Transportation & Development.
composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, John E. Conery, and Candyce
G. Perret, Judges.
Conery, J., concurs in the result and assigns reasons.
ELIZABETH A. PICKETT JUDGE.
matter arises from a collision that occurred between a pickup
truck and an eighteen-wheeler tractor-trailer when the driver
of the eighteen-wheeler drove across an intersection in dense
fog that limited the vision of both drivers. The driver of
the pickup truck suffered catastrophic injuries. He and his
wife sued the driver of the eighteen-wheeler, his employer,
and the employer's primary and excess insurers. After a
jury trial, the jury found the driver of the eighteen-wheeler
to be solely at fault and awarded the plaintiff damages
exceeding $30 million. One excess insurer appeals the
jury's verdict. For the following reasons, we affirm the
judgment of the trial court.
facts of how the accident occurred are not at issue. In the
early morning hours of January 23, 2013, Gerald Pitre, an
employee of Greenwood Motor Lines, Inc. d/b/a R&L
Carriers, was operating his R&L eighteen-wheeler on the
outskirts of Lafayette, upon return to R&L Carriers'
facility in nearby Scott from his regular overnight roundtrip
to Houston, Texas. Mr. Pitre traveled to Houston and back to
Lafayette on Interstate 10 between 9:00 p.m. on January 22
and 5:30 a.m. on January 23. According to Mr. Pitre, he had
driven back from Houston in fog that he described as
"heavier than ever, " and he could only see what
was within the area illuminated by his headlights.
Pitre exited Interstate 10 at Duson onto Austria Road and
drove south to where Austria Road intersects with U.S.
Highway 90 (the Intersection). The Intersection was
controlled with stop signs and two red flashing signals for
motorists on Austria Road and a yellow flashing signal for
motorists on Highway 90. Mr. Pitre stopped when he reached
the Intersection at which time he noticed a burning smell
that he believed was coming from his trailer. He contacted
the R&L dispatcher to report the burning smell and
informed the dispatcher that he was going to drive to where
he could safely stop and inspect the trailer to determine the
cause of the burning smell.
Pitre explained that he originally intended to turn left at
the Intersection, but after speaking with the dispatcher, he
decided to drive straight across Highway 90 to stop and
inspect his trailer. He further explained that when he ended
his conversation with the dispatcher, he looked at the
Intersection, saw two cars pass through it, "waited a
few seconds, " then drove through it. Mr. Pitre also
testified that the fog at the Intersection was such that that
although the vehicles traveling on Highway 90 had their
headlights on, he could not see them until they "crossed
right in front of my face."
same time, Ronald Stutes was traveling to work on Highway 90.
As he approached the Intersection, Mr. Stutes saw the
eighteen-wheeler crossing the Intersection. He slammed on his
brakes but was unable to stop or swerve to avoid the
tractor-trailer, and he crashed into the rear wheel of the
tractor-trailer. Mr. Stutes testified that although it was
foggy, he could see the Intersection. As he crossed the
Intersection, Mr. Pitre heard a crunching sound, but he was
unaware that a vehicle had hit his trailer and continued
traveling approximately 500 feet down Austria Road. Mr. Pitre
testified that he never saw Mr. Stutes' vehicle before
Stutes suffered very serious injuries and is now a paraplegic
with paralysis from his chest down; he is unable to care for
himself. His injuries include thoracic spine fractures at T4,
T5, and T6 that required fixation with screws and rods from
T2-8; a cervical spine injury at C7; a transverse process
fracture with cervical spine injury; contusions in his
cervical and thoracic spine; collapsed lungs; a cerebral
concussion; a brain injury; a comminuted humerus/ neck
fracture; and numerous other injuries. The evidence indicates
that Mr. Stutes' limbs and most of his internal organs
were damaged or impaired in some way in the accident or as a
result of his injuries. Additionally, after the accident, Mr.
Stutes developed diabetes.
Stutes and his wife, Carroll,  filed suit against Mr. Pitre;
R&L Carriers; Greenwood Motor Lines, Inc.; R&L
Carriers, Inc.; R&L Carriers Shared Services, LLC;
R&L Transfer, Inc.; Protective Insurance Company;
Lexington Insurance Company; Zurich American Insurance
Company; and American Guarantee and Liability Insurance
Company (AGLIC). In their answers, the defendants asserted
affirmative defenses including fault of Mr. Stutes and fault
of a third party, the Louisiana Department of Transportation
and Development (DOTD). The Stuteses then added DOTD as a
to trial, DOTD filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking
dismissal of the claims asserted against them on the basis
that neither the Stuteses nor the defendants could carry
their burden of proving liability against them. The Stuteses
also filed a motion for summary judgment in which they sought
the dismissal of DOTD on that same basis. After a hearing,
the trial court granted the motions for summary judgment and
dismissed DOTD from this suit.
to trial, Mr. Stutes entered into a Partial Settlement
Agreement with Mr. Pitre, the R&L entities, and
Protective Insurance Company in which those defendants
tendered a sum of money less than $4 million dollars in
exchange for being dismissed from the litigation. Pursuant to
the Agreement, the Stuteses reserved their rights to proceed
against R&L's excess insurers, Zurich and AGLIC, as
authorized in Futch v Fidelity & Casualty Co. of New
York, 246 La. 688, 166 So.2d 274 (1964) and Gasquet
v. Commercial Union Insurance Co., 391 So.2d 466
(La.App. 4 Cir. 1980), writs denied, 396 So.2d 921,
922 (La.1981). Pursuant to the Agreement, Zurich and AGLIC
received a credit of $4 million against any judgment obtained
jury trial, the jury awarded Mr. Stutes damages totaling $30,
138, 225 and awarded Mrs. Stutes $300, 000 for loss of
consortium. On November 3, 2016, the trial court signed a
judgment memorializing the jury's verdict. Thereafter,
Lexington filed a motion for new trial and alternative motion
for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and AGLIC filed a
motion for new trial and alternatively for remittitur and
alternative motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The trial court denied the motions. Lexington and AGLIC each
appealed; Lexington dismissed its appeal before filing an
assigns the following errors with the trial court proceeding:
1. The trial judge erred in granting the pre-trial motions of
the plaintiffs and  DOTD for summary judgment, resulting in
the omission from the jury verdict form of any possibility
for the jury to assign a percentage of fault to  DOTD.
2. The trial judge erred in permitting the jury to consider a
life care plan based on the life expectancy of a person
without the serious injuries that Stutes had, and erred in
denying post-judgment relief on this basis.
3. The jury erred in awarding grossly excessive general
damages to Ronald Stutes for his injuries, and the trial
judge erred in denying the post-judgment relief sought by
appellant to reduce those damages
first assigns error with the trial court's grant of
DOTD's and the Stuteses' motions for summary judgment
which prevented AGLIC from arguing to the jury that the
Intersection was unreasonably dangerous and prevented the
jury from assigning a percentage of fault to DOTD. The
Stuteses named DOTD as a defendant because the R&L
defendants pleaded the affirmative defense of fault of a
third party, alleging that DOTD was negligent for failing to
install a three-phase signal at the Intersection and that its
negligence contributed to the accident. DOTD filed a motion
for summary judgment, arguing that a three-phase signal was
not required at the Intersection and that it was ...