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Stephenson v. Hotard

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

January 9, 2019

OBADIAH STEPHENSON, JR.
v.
BRYCE W. HOTARD, SUNBELT RENTALS, INC., AND TRAVELERS PROPERTY AND CASUALTY COMPANY OF AMERICA

          APPLICATION FOR WRITS DIRECTED TO CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2016-02900, DIVISION "J" Honorable Nicole D. Sheppard

          Sharonda R. Williams E. Blair Schilling FISHMAN HAYGOOD, L.L.P., Kim M. Boyle Allen C. Miller Ashley J. Heilprin PHELPS DUNBAR, L.L.P., Elton F. Duncan Kelly A. Sevin P. Sinnott Martin DUNCAN & SEVIN, L.L.C. Frank Bryant Blevins BUTLER WEIHMULLER KATZ CRAIG COUNSEL FOR RELATORS/DEFENDANTS

          Gregory P. DiLeo Benjamin W. Gulick, Tony Clayton CLAYTON FRUGE WARD Caleb H. Didriksen, III DIDRIKSEN LAW FIRM COUNSEL FOR RESPONDENT/PLAINTIFF

          Court composed of Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Rosemary Ledet

          Daniel L. Dysart, Judge.

         Relators seek review of the denial of their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment rendered on November 5, 2018. After a de novo review of the record, we find that the trial court erred and thus reverse its ruling. Madere v. Collins, 17-0723, p. 6 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/28/18), 241 So.3d 1143, 1147.

         Obadiah Stephenson, Jr., ("Stephenson") was rear-ended by a truck owned by Sunbelt Rentals, Inc. ("Sunbelt"), and driven by Bryce Hotard ("Hotard"). In his petition, Stephenson claimed that he suffered injuries from the collision. In a supplemental petition, Stephenson alleged that Hotard was obligated by his employer to report the accident and submit to alcohol/drug testing within eight hours of the accident. Stephenson argues that Hotard intentionally did not report the accident, thereby denying him of proof that Hotard was intoxicated at the time of the accident. He argues the failure to report and be tested is tantamount to spoliation of evidence.

         In his deposition, Stephenson stated that Hotard appeared "sweaty" and had "droopy eyes." Hotard told Stephenson he was afraid of losing his job. During the three to five minutes that the two men stood on the side of the road, Stephenson did not smell alcohol on Hotard, nor did he notice that Hotard's speech was impaired. Contrary to the allegations of his petition, Stephenson, at the time of the accident, stated that he was uninjured and chose not to call the police.

         Hotard testified in his deposition that he did not report the incident to his employer, as there was no damage to either vehicle, and Stephenson stated he was uninjured.

         In Louisiana, the general public policy is against awarding exemplary damages. Chauvin v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 14-0808, p. 10 (La. 12/9/14), 158 So.3d 761, 768. Exemplary damages are not allowed unless expressly authorized by statute, and said statutes must be strictly construed. Id. The purpose of exemplary damages is to punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in the same type of conduct; therefore, the focus is on the defendant's conduct and motives, not on the tort or injury itself. Id., 14-0808, pp. 10-11, 158 So.3d at 768.

         Stephenson argues that La. Civ. Code art. 2315.4 permits him to seek exemplary damages. Art. 2315.4 provides, in part: "[E]xemplary damages may be awarded upon proof that the injuries on which the action is based were caused by a wanton or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others by a defendant whose intoxication while operating a motor vehicle was the cause in fact of the resulting injuries."

         In Lyons v. Progressive Ins. Co., 03-2163 (La.App. 4 Cir. 7/21/04), 881 So.2d 124, this Court set forth three elements that must be proved to allow an award of exemplary damages:

(1) that the defendant was intoxicated or had consumed a sufficient quantity of intoxicants to make him lose normal control of his mental and physical faculties; (2) that the intoxication was a cause-in-fact of the resulting injuries; and (3) that the injuries were caused by the defendant's wanton or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others.

         Relators argue that summary judgment is warranted as there is a lack of evidence that Hotard was intoxicated at the time of the accident. They point to Stephenson's deposition testimony that Hotard did not smell of alcohol, his speech was not ...


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