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Troxclair v. Liberty Personal Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

February 21, 2018

DAVID TROXCLAIR INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NATURAL TUTOR OF HIS MINOR SON COLE TROXCLAIR
v.
LIBERTY PERSONAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND SONYA MEYER

         ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 753-974, DIVISION "C" HONORABLE JUNE B. DARENSBURG, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, DAVID TROXCLAIR INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NATURAL TUTOR OF HIS MINOR SON COLE TROXCLAIR Matthew D. Hemmer.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, LIBERTY PERSONAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND SONYA MEYER Kevin T. Phayer.

          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Jude G. Gravois, and Marc E. Johnson.

          JUDE G. GRAVOIS JUDGE.

         Defendants, Sonya Meyer and Liberty Personal Insurance Company, appeal a trial court judgment in favor of plaintiff, David Troxclair, individually and as natural tutor and administrator of the estate of his minor son, Cole Troxclair, in this suit for damages arising from a motor vehicle accident that occurred in front of plaintiff's home. After a bench trial, the court found Mrs. Meyer solely liable for the accident that caused injuries to Cole and damages to plaintiff's mailbox. On appeal, defendants argue that the trial court was manifestly erroneous in finding Mrs. Meyer at fault in causing the accident, or alternatively, in failing to find Cole comparatively at fault in causing the accident. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         At around 8:00 a.m. on the morning of February 27, 2015, defendant, Sonya Meyer, was operating her Toyota Sequoia SUV on Lake Arrowhead Drive in the Stonebridge Subdivision in Harvey, Louisiana. Cole Troxclair, a minor child, lived on this street with his mother, father, and older brother. Mrs. Meyer also lived in the same neighborhood and was on her way home from dropping her daughter off at school. Cole, who was in the fifth grade at the time, was outside running in his front yard with his older brother, Drake, who was in the seventh grade. As Mrs. Meyer was proceeding down the street in front of the Troxclair home, her vehicle struck Cole, although the exact location of the accident was disputed at trial (whether it was in the driveway, the street, or the front yard).

         In the accident, Cole sustained a mild concussion, a "really" bruised leg, a scraped arm, two lacerations on his chin (one requiring stitches), a "tiny" hairline fracture of the iliac crest of his hip, and a chipped tooth. He spent part of the day in the hospital. He was able to return to normal activities about a month or two after the accident. According to Mrs. Troxclair, he had a full and complete recovery "except for a little bit of puckering on his chin." Plaintiff's mailbox, which was a brick structure located next to the driveway where the front lawn met the curb, was also damaged when it was struck by Mrs. Meyer's vehicle.

         On September 25, 2015, suit was filed against Mrs. Meyer and her automobile insurer, Liberty Personal Insurance Company. A bench trial was held on the matter on May 22, 2017.[1] After taking the matter under advisement, the trial court signed a judgment on May 24, 2017 in favor of plaintiff, finding Mrs. Meyer solely liable for the accident and awarding plaintiff $29, 619.99 in damages.[2]Defendants requested written reasons for judgment, which were issued by the court on June 23, 2017. This appeal followed.

         At issue in this appeal is the trial court's determination that Mrs. Meyer was solely liable in causing the accident.[3] Defendants argue that the evidence shows that Cole was totally responsible for his own injuries because he "suddenly and without warning" ran into the path of Mrs. Meyer's vehicle, such that Mrs. Meyer did not have time to avoid hitting him. Alternatively, defendants argue that the evidence shows that at the very least, Cole was comparatively at fault in causing the accident, and thus, he should bear some responsibility for his injuries and resulting damages.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A court of appeal may not set aside a trial court's or a jury's finding of fact in the absence of "manifest error" or unless it is "clearly wrong." Stobart v. State, 617 So.2d 880, 882 (La. 1993). In Stobart, the Supreme Court reiterated the two-part test for the reversal of a factfinder's determinations: 1) the appellate court must find from the record that a reasonable factual basis does not exist for the finding of the trial court, and 2) the appellate court must further determine that the record establishes that the finding is clearly wrong (manifestly erroneous). Id. This test dictates that a reviewing court must do more than simply review the record for some evidence which supports or controverts the trial court's finding. The reviewing court must review the record in its entirety to determine whether the trial court's finding was clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous. Id.

         The issue to be resolved by a reviewing court is not whether the trier of fact was right or wrong, but whether the factfinder's conclusion was a reasonable one. Id. Even though an appellate court may feel its own evaluations and inferences are more reasonable than the factfinder's, reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review where conflict exists in the testimony. Id. However, where documents or objective evidence so contradict the witness's story, or the story itself is so internally inconsistent or implausible on its face, that a reasonable factfinder would not credit the witness's story, the court of appeal may find manifest error or clear wrongness even in a finding purportedly based upon a credibility determination. Id. Nonetheless, the reviewing court must always keep in mind that "if the trial court or jury's findings are reasonable in light of the record reviewed in its entirety, the court of appeal may not reverse, even if convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently." Id. at 882-83.

         The reason for this well-settled principle of review is based not only upon the trial court's better capacity to evaluate live witnesses (as compared with the appellate court's access only to a cold record), but also upon the proper allocation of trial and appellate functions between the respective courts. Id. at 883. Thus, where two permissible views of the ...


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