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Chanthasalo v. Deshotel

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

December 27, 2017

SOMVANG CHANTHASALO
v.
MELISSA DESHOTEL, DEBRA SCHUM, STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, RONALD J. MITCHELL, USAA CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, AND PROGRESSIVE SECURITY INSURANCE COMPANY

         APPEAL FROM St. Bernard Parish, 34th Judicial District Court NO. 15-0048, Division "C" Honorable Kim C. Jones, Judge President

          Clay Garside WALTZER WIYGUL & GARSIDE, LLC COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT, SOMVANG CHANTHASALO

          Sophia G. Pappas Sarah C. Douglas FREDERICK A. MILLER & ASSOCIATES COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES, MELISSA DESHOTEL AND STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY

          Ronald K. Bell CASLER, BORDELON, LAWLER COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, PROGRESSIVE SECURITY INSURANCE COMPANY

          Court composed of Judge Paula A. Brown, Judge Tiffany G. Chase, Judge Marion F. Edwards, Pro Tempore,

          Paula A. Brown, Judge

         This is a civil appeal, which arises out of two automobile accidents sustained by the Plaintiff/Appellant, Somvang Chanthasalo ("Mr. Chanthasalo"). Mr. Chanthasalo, appeals the district court's judgment that granted motions for summary judgment filed on behalf of Defendants/Appellees, Melissa Deshotel ("Ms. Deshotel") and her insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (collectively, "State Farm"); and Progressive Security Insurance Company ("Progressive"), Mr. Chanthasalo's uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 17, 2014, while traveling on Interstate-10, near the Williams Boulevard and Loyola Street exits in Kenner, Louisiana, Ms. Deshotel's vehicle rear-ended Mr. Chanthasalo's truck ("Accident No. 1"). After the collision, Mr. Chanthasalo and Ms. Deshotel pulled their respective vehicles onto the shoulder of the road to assess property damages and report the accident to the police. Approximately five to fifteen minutes later, Ronald Mitchell ("Mr. Mitchell") drove his vehicle into the rear of Debra Schum's ("Ms. Schum") vehicle ("Accident No. 2"). The impact of Accident No. 2 pushed Ms. Schum's vehicle onto the shoulder of the road, causing it to strike both Ms. Deshotel and Mr. Chanthasalo. Mr. Chanthasalo incurred significant injuries as a result of Accident No. 2.

         On January 16, 2015, Mr. Chanthasalo filed a Petition for Damages ("the Petition') against Ms. Deshotel, Ms. Schum, and their insurer, State Farm;[1] Mr. Mitchell and his insurer, USAA Casualty Insurance Company (USAA);[2] and Progressive. The Petition alleged that the accident was caused by the negligence of Ms. Deshotel, Ms. Schum, and Mr. Mitchell and the defendants were jointly, solidarily, and severally liable unto him for his personal injuries.

         On January 6, 2017, State Farm, as the liability insurer of Ms. Deshotel, filed a motion for summary judgment. State Farm contended that Mr. Chanthasalo's lawsuit arose from two accidents, not one. State Farm argued that by Mr. Chanthasalo's own admission, Accident No. 1 was minor and he attributed his injuries exclusively to Accident No. 2. State Farm asserted Ms. Deshotel owed no continuing duty to Mr. Chanthasalo beyond Accident No. 1, arguing that Mr. Chanthasalo offered no facts to prove that Ms. Deshotel's alleged negligence from Accident No. 1 was the legal cause of the injuries he sustained from Accident No. 2. State Farm prayed for dismissal of Mr. Chanthasalo's suit against Ms. Deshotel.

         Progressive filed its motion for summary judgment on January 10, 2017. In its motion, Progressive acknowledged that it issued a policy of insurance to Mr. Chanthasalo with uninsured/underinsured ("UM") bodily liability limits of $15, 000.00 per person and $30, 000.00 per accident. However, Progressive argued that Mr. Chanthasalo was not entitled to UM benefits for Accident No. 1 because as he admitted, he was not injured in that accident. Progressive also noted that it had already tendered the $15, 000.00 UM policy limits for the damages incurred as a result of Accident No. 2.

         In opposition to State Farm's summary judgment motion, Mr. Chanthasalo argued that pursuant to La. C.C. art. 2315, [3] Ms. Deshotel was responsible for the damages he sustained from Accident No. 2. He averred that the duty owed from Accident No. 1 extended to Accident No. 2 because it was entirely foreseeable that a second collision might occur after the parties-as required by law-had pulled onto the shoulder of a dangerous, busy interstate highway to call the police and exchange information.

         Mr. Chanthasalo's opposition to Progressive's summary judgment motion asserted that its UM exposure for Accident No. 1 depended on whether Ms. Deshotel was liable for the injuries he sustained in Accident No. 2. Accordingly, Mr. Chanthasalo claimed to the extent that any liability assessed against Ms. Deshotel for Accident No. 2 exceeded her insurance policy limits, Progressive had potential UM exposure for Accident No. 1.

         The district court heard argument on the summary judgment motions on February 17, 2017. After taking the matter under advisement, the district court granted both summary judgment motions. Pursuant to a consent motion to include decretal language in the judgment, [4] the district court rendered an amended judgment on March 2, 2017. The amended judgment re-affirmed the grant of the respective summary judgment motions.

         In the amended judgment, the district court found no genuine issues of material fact to preclude State Farm's request for summary judgment, and specifically dismissed all claims asserted by Mr. Chanthasalo against Ms. Deshotel and State Farm, with prejudice. The amended judgment also granted State Farm's motion to designate the judgment as a final judgment.

         In its incorporated reasons for judgment, the district court found two separate and distinct accidents occurred on January 17, 2014. It reasoned that "the duty owed by Defendant Melissa Deshotel and the scope of protection afforded at law to the Plaintiff, Somvang Chanthasalo, did not extend from the first accident to the second accident involving different actors." The district court further reasoned:

[T]he actions of Defendant Melissa Deshotel were not substantial in character relative to the cause of the second accident. There is no "ease of association" in which the original accident at issue (the first accident) became the legal and/and or proximate cause of the second accident. Thus, the Plaintiff having raised no genuine issues of material fact which would preclude this Court's finding, summary judgment is appropriate.

         The district court specifically found the judgment on State Farm's summary judgment motion pertained only to Accident No. 1.

         As to Progressive, the amended judgment granted its motion for summary judgment on Accident No. 1 and dismissed any UM claims Mr. Chanthasalo raised against Progressive with prejudice; however, it reserved Mr. Chanthasalo's right to proceed against Progressive for UM benefits that arose out of Accident No. 2.[5] The district court found Ms. Deshotel was free of fault regarding ...


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