KARONDA WASHINGTON, LATEISHA ATKINSON ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR CHILD, JA'MYAH BASS AND TASHELL JONES ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR CHILD, EZEKIEL BLAKES
ONEBEACON AMERICA INSURANCE COMPANY, SID GAUTREAUX, EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH SHERIFF, TYLER COMEAUX, GOAUTO INSURANCE COMPANY AND SHANKEYSHIA JONES
Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for
the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Docket No.
C631182 Honorable Wilson E. Fields, Judge Presiding
Benjamin T. Lowe Spencer H. Calahan Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee Karonda Washington
G. Erlingson Judson G. Banks Mary E. Colvin Lee J. Ledet
Baton Rouge, Louisiana Counsel for Defendants/ Appellants Sid
J. Gautreaux, III, in his capacity as sheriff of East Baton
Rouge Parish, Deputy Tyler Comeaux and Atlantic Specialty
Tettleton Baton Rouge, Louisiana Counsel for Defendants/
Appellees GoAuto Insurance Company and Shankeyshia Jones
BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.
seek review of a trial court judgment finding an officer
grossly negligent in causing a motor vehicle accident when
responding to an emergency. For the reasons that follow, we
amend the judgment to assess fault comparatively and affirm
the judgment as amended.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
matter arises out of a motor vehicle crash that occurred on
March 15, 2014 at around 11:30 p.m. on Airline Highway in
East Baton Rouge Parish. Plaintiff, Karonda Washington, was a
passenger in a 2003 Mazda Tribute being operated by her
daughter, Shankeyshia Jones. Ms. Jones was traveling
northbound in the right hand lane of Airline Highway,
approaching its intersection with Jefferson Highway.
about the same time, Brad Manuel and Tyler Comeaux, both
deputies with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's
Office, were traveling northbound in the left hand lane of
Airline Highway, some unspecified distance behind Ms.
Jones' vehicle. The two deputies were in separate police
cruisers with their emergency lights and sirens on responding
to a Code III call. A Code III call generally requires
officers to move to the scene as quickly as possible with
lights and sirens engaged. The officers were responding to a
call regarding "a disturbance with a weapon ... with an
individual inside of a home with a gun" along with
screaming being heard in the background.
point, Ms. Jones moved her vehicle into the left hand lane to
make a left turn onto Jefferson Highway. Deputy Manuel
stopped his police cruiser behind Ms. Jones' vehicle.
Deputy Manuel, in an attempt to have Ms. Jones move her
vehicle so that he could pass, changed the tone on his siren
multiple times. After Ms. Jones had made sufficient room to
allow Deputy Manuel to pass, Deputy Comeaux's cruiser
rear-ended Deputy Manuel's cruiser and pushed it to the
right. Thereafter, Deputy Comeaux's cruiser rear-ended
Ms. Jones' vehicle. Ms. Washington was injured in the
10, 2014, Ms. Washington filed suit against Deputy Comeaux;
Sid Gautreaux in his capacity as the East Baton Rouge Parish
Sheriff; the Sheriff's insurer, Atlantic Specialty
Insurance Company (improperly identified as OneBeacon America
Insurance Company in the petition); Ms. Jones; and Ms.
Jones' insurer, GoAuto Insurance Company. Ms. Washington
alleged that the accident was caused by the fault of Mr.
Comeaux and/or Ms. Jones and sought recovery for injuries
sustained in the accident.
Jones and GoAuto Insurance Company filed an answer, alleging
that Deputy Comeaux was responsible for the accident, or
alternatively, that fault should be apportioned between the
two defendant drivers.
Comeaux, the Sheriff, and Atlantic Specialty Insurance
Company (sometimes referred to collectively as appellants)
filed an answer, asserting that Ms. Jones was liable for the
accident for, among other things, failing to comply with a
motorist's duties under LSA-R.S. 32:125 upon approach of
an emergency vehicle.
a trial on the merits, the trial court found the appellants
solely liable for the accident, reasoning as follows:
The court finds that the defendant, Sheriff Comeaux, ... was
grossly negligent in the manner in which he operated his
police unit on the night of the accident. From his own
testimony he stated that he, and I'm paraphrasing, that
he was blinded by the blue lights, either from his car or
from another sheriff's deputy's car that was in front
of him that did not allow him to see the braking of the
vehicles in front of him. He was operating the vehicle based
off the testimony, in the neighborhood going well over ninety
something miles-per-hour. And the road condition of the night
of the accident, it was wet. And so the court finds that he
was grossly negligent in operating the vehicle at such a high
rate of speed without being able to clearly see what was in
front of him. He was not able to stop his vehicle from
running in the back of his - another sheriff deputy's
vehicle that he knocked off the road and then propelled into
the vehicle in which the plaintiff was riding in.
reference was made by the trial court regarding the position
of Ms. Jones' vehicle or Ms. Jones' failure to stay
in the right lane of travel as the emergency vehicles
approached. On November 6, 2017, the trial court signed a
judgment in accord with its ruling in open court, holding the
appellants solely liable for the accident and awarding
damages in favor of Ms. Washington.
their appeal, appellants assign the following as error:
1. The trial court erred in finding that Plaintiff met her
burden of proof that Deputy Comeaux was grossly negligent.
2. Alternatively, the trial court erred in finding that
Deputy Comeaux was that sole cause of the subject accident
and failing to assign any comparative fault to Shankeyshia
reviewing court cannot disturb the factual findings of a
trial court absent abuse of discretion or manifest error.
Rosell v. ESCO, 549 So.2d 840 (La. 1989). To reverse
the trial court's factual findings, the appellate court
must find from the record that no reasonable factual basis
exists for the findings and must determine that the record
establishes the findings as clearly wrong or manifestly
erroneous. Stobart v. State through Dept. of Transp. and
Dev., 617 So.2d 880, 882 (La. 1993). Thus, the inquiry
is whether the factual findings are reasonable, not whether
the trier of fact was right or wrong. Id. If, in
light of the record in its entirety, the trial court's
findings are reasonable, then the appellate court may not
reverse, even if convinced it would have weighed the evidence
differently sitting as the trier of fact. Sistler v.
Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.
assert that Deputy Comeaux, because he was responding to a
Code III emergency with lights and sirens activated, was
immune from liability because the plaintiffs failed to show
that he acted with reckless disregard or was grossly
negligent. Specifically, LSA-R.S. 32:24 provides immunity
from liability to drivers of emergency vehicles, under
specific circumstances as follows:
A. The driver or rider of an authorized emergency vehicle,
when responding to an emergency call, or when in the pursuit
of an actual or suspected violator of the law, or when
responding to, but not upon returning from, a fire alarm, may
exercise the privileges set ...