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Gaines v. Wilson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

March 21, 2018

BRENDA GAINES
v.
LAURA WILSON, STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY AND ESURANCE INSURANCE COMPANY

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2015-07390, DIVISION "E-16" Honorable Clare Jupiter, Judge

          Betty F. Mullin Michael L. Mullin LAW OFFICE OF MICHAEL L. MULLIN COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT

          James E. Brouillette James A. Stapp LAW OFFICES OF HAROLD G. TOSCANO COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          Court composed of Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Tiffany G. Chase.

          Rosemary Ledet Judge

         This is a tort case arising out of an automobile accident. The trial court found the plaintiff, Brenda Gaines, solely at fault in causing the accident due to her failure to yield. Ms. Gaines appeals, contending that the trial court erred in failing to find the defendant, Laura Wilson, solely at fault due to her improperly changing lanes. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a two-vehicle accident that occurred on November 5, 2014, at approximately 5:30 p.m., in the vicinity of the eastbound I-10 exit ramp onto Chef Menteur Highway ("Chef Menteur") in New Orleans, Louisiana. Claiming personal injuries and property damage to the rental car that she was driving, Ms. Gaines sued, among others, the driver of the other vehicle, Ms. Wilson.[1] In her petition, Ms. Gaines averred that the accident occurred as follows:

• [Ms. Gaines] was driving a [rented] 2015 Kia Soul automobile in an eastbound direction, in the right lane of travel of Chef Menteur Highway, near the intersection of Reynes Street in New Orleans.
• Suddenly and without warning, while driving a 1994 Mazda Protege automobile, Laura Wilson executed a U-turn from westbound Chef Menteur Highway at Reynes Street, crossed over the left and center eastbound lanes, and crossed into the far right eastbound lane occupied by plaintiff, resulting in a collision with plaintiffs vehicle . . .

         A one-day bench trial was held in this matter. From the trial testimony and evidence, it is clear that Chef Menteur is a major highway with three lanes in each direction-eastbound and westbound-separated by a median with turning lanes. It is also clear that the I-10 exit ramp merges into the right eastbound lane of Chef Menteur. Approaching that merger, the right eastbound lane is bordered on the left by a solid white line.[2] The right eastbound lane, however, was not a protected lane dedicated to traffic merging from I-10 onto Chef Menteur.

         At trial, the two drivers were the principal witnesses.[3] The drivers shared some similarities: both were in their seventies; both were en route to their homes, which were located nearby, when the accident occurred; and both were familiar with the area where the accident occurred. Both drivers testified that the accident occurred in the right eastbound lane of Chef Menteur. Each driver's version of the accident, however, was different.

         According to Ms. Gaines, when the accident occurred, she had exited the I-10 exit ramp to Chef Menteur and had fully cleared the exit ramp. Ms. Gaines did not recall whether there was a yield sign at the end of the I-10 exit ramp, and she believed that she had no duty to yield to traffic in the right eastbound lane of Chef Menteur. Nonetheless, she testified, before merging into that lane, she looked and observed no traffic in that lane. She indicated that it was still daylight when the accident occurred and that there was no impediment blocking her view of eastbound traffic. When asked whether she knew where Ms. Wilson came from, Ms. Gaines testified that, "[w]hen I saw Laura Wilson and her car, it was into my car." Ms. Gaines further testified that after the accident, Ms. Wilson's car was located in the right eastbound lane. Ms. Gaines described the damage to Ms. Wilson's vehicle as being on the passenger side front and back door, and the damage to her rental vehicle as being on the front driver's corner bumper and fender by the headlight.

         According to Ms. Wilson, she was returning home from picking up food at Lucky Jean Seafood ("Lucky"), when the accident occurred. When she left Lucky, which was on the westbound side of Chef Menteur, she made a U-turn to return home. After she made the U-turn, she pulled into the right eastbound lane of Chef Menteur-the lane closest to the I-10 exit ramp. She lived on the right side of Chef Menteur; she intended to remain in the right lane until she made a right turn to go home. Ms. Wilson testified that she remained in the right lane from the time she made a U-turn until the time of the impact. According to Ms. Wilson, Ms. Gaines "hit me from the right as I passed, because I already passed her." Ms. Wilson testified that there was a big yield sign facing motorists coming off the I-10 exit ramp.

         The trial court found that Ms. Gaines was solely at fault for causing the accident and rendered judgment dismissing her suit. The trial court also issued the following written reasons for judgment:

Mrs. Gaines initially testified that there was no "yield" sign directing vehicles coming off the eastbound I-10 exit ramp at Chef Mentuer Highway. After some cross examination, she expressed less certainty on this ...

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