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Hobley v. Caddo Parish School Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 16, 2019


          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 596394 Honorable Michael A. Pitman, Judge

          P. ALAN STEGALL Counsel for Appellant

          ZELDA W. TUCKER Counsel for Appellees

          Before STONE, McCALLUM, and BLEICH (Pro Tempore), JJ.

          BLEICH, J. (PRO TEMPORE)

         The issue in this appeal, filed by Plaintiff, the mother of two minor children who were on a school bus when it struck a parked vehicle, is whether the trial court's award of $1, 000 in damages to Plaintiff, $500 for each child, was inadequate. Finding no error, we affirm.


         On November 3, 2015, during an attempt to maneuver around a CenterPoint Energy truck and trailer parked on the side of the road in the 100 block of W. 86th Street, the rear right tire of a Caddo Parish school bus driven by Arleene Davenport struck the left corner of the trailer. The tire deflated and the area of the bus behind the tire was slightly damaged. At the time of the accident, there was a video camera inside the bus which covered the interior of the bus and its passengers. The two minor sons of Plaintiff Shelly Hobley were passengers on the bus at the time of the accident. Plaintiff, on behalf of her sons Michael Holden, Jr., and Kaileb Holden, filed the instant action against Defendants, the Caddo Parish School Board and Arleen Davenport, alleging that the boys had been injured as a result of the collision.

         A bench trial was held on December 6, 2017. The trial judge heard the testimony and reviewed the evidence, including the video from the bus, and rendered judgment in favor of Plaintiff as follows. Although finding that Ms. Davenport was negligent and at fault in causing the accident, the trial court concluded that the contact was so minimal that neither minor child suffered injuries anywhere close to the extent asserted by Plaintiff. The court then awarded Plaintiff damages of $500 on behalf of each boy, for a total award of $1, 000. Plaintiff has appealed the trial court's judgment, urging that the judge erred by awarding inadequate general damages and failing to award the medical expenses incurred by her sons.


         Both parties in their appellate briefs have addressed their arguments to this Court as if the trial court awarded Plaintiff, on behalf of her sons, general damages only and omitted an award for medical expenses. The trial court, in both its oral reasons for judgment and its judgment, explicitly stated that it was awarding $500 in damages (with no designation as to whether the damages were general damages, medical expenses, or a combination thereof) to Plaintiff for each minor child. These are therefore lump sum or in globo awards. See, Wilson v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 01-0482 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/03/01), 796 So.2d 869.

         The trial court is not required to itemize the damages it awards and does not err in awarding damages in globo. Gray v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 99-1292 (La.App. 1st Cir. 06/23/00), 762 So.2d 1172. General and special damages such as medical expenses may be awarded in globo and such an award will not be set aside absent abuse of discretion. Johnson v. Henry, 16-0271 (La.App. 1st Cir. 10/31/16), 206 So.3d 916. When a judgment makes such an award, it is presumed to include all items of damages claimed. Bryan v. City of New Orleans, 98-1263 (La. 01/20/99), 732 So.2d 737; Johnson, supra; Wilson, supra. Therefore, our review of the lump sum awards will be as if each encompassed both general damages and medical expenses, and we will consider Plaintiff's argument to be that the lump sum awards are abusively low (and Defendants' argument to be that the trial court did not abuse its discretion).

         In a suit for damages, it is the plaintiff's burden to prove the damage suffered as a result of a defendant's fault. Wainwright v. Fontenot, 00-0492 (La. 10/17/00), 774 So.2d 70; Brannan v. Wyeth Laboratories, Inc., 526 So.2d 1101 (La. 1988). The plaintiff has the burden of proving a causal connection between the accident and any alleged injuries. Maranto v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 94-2603 (La. 02/20/95), 650 So.2d 757; Goldsby v. Blocker through Dept. of Transportation and Development, 51, 584 (La.App. 2 Cir. 09/27/17), 244 So.3d 703; Lee v. Safeway Insurance Co. of Louisiana, 46, 716 (La.App. 2 Cir. 12/09/11), 81 So.3d 113, writ denied, 12-0103 (La. 03/23/12), 85 So.3d 90. Proof must be by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. That burden is satisfied when the plaintiff proves through medical and lay testimony that it was more probable than not that the injury was caused by the accident. Id. Whether the accident caused the plaintiff's injuries is a factual question which should not be reversed on appeal absent manifest error. Green v. K-Mart Corp., 03-2495 (La. 05/25/04), 874 So.2d 838; Goldsby, supra; Lee, supra.

         In the assessment of damages for personal injury, much discretion is left to the judge or jury. La. C.C. art. 2324.1. General damages are those which may not be fixed with pecuniary exactitude; instead, they involve mental or physical pain or suffering, inconvenience, the loss of intellectual gratification or physical enjoyment, or other losses of life or lifestyle which cannot be definitively measured in monetary terms. Kaiser v. Hardin, 06-2092 (La. 04/11/07), 953 So.2d 802; Ellis v. Brown, 50, 690 (La.App. 2d Cir. 05/18/16), 196 So.3d 665. Before an appellate court can alter an award of general damages, it must find, through articulated analysis, that the trier of fact clearly abused its discretion. Even then the appellate court may not substitute its own opinion, but is confined to raising (or lowering) the award to the lowest (or highest) amount that would have been within the ...

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