FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF IBERIA,
NO. 122902 HONORABLE GREGORY P. AUCOIN, DISTRICT JUDGE
André F. Toce The Toce Firm, APLC COUNSEL FOR:
Plaintiff/Appellant - Joseph Stelly Jr.
Christopher Shannon Hardy Penny & Hardy COUNSEL FOR:
Defendant/Appellee - Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance
Michael J. Remondet, Jr. Jeansonne & Remondet COUNSEL
FOR: Defendant/Appellee - Cecila Auto Glass, LLC
J. Haydel Porteous, Hainkel & Johnson COUNSEL FOR:
Defendant/Appellee - Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance
K. Trahan Juneau David, APLC COUNSEL FOR:
Defendants/Appellees - National Union Fire Insurance Company,
Lexington Insurance Company, Emanual J. Benoit, Brent C.
Singleton, & American Eagle Logistics, LLC
H. Moroux Broussard & David, LLC COUNSEL FOR:
Plaintiff/Appellant - Joseph Stelly Jr.
composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Shannon J.
Gremillion, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.
ULYSSES GENE THIBODEAUX CHIEF JUDGE
Joseph Stelly Jr. appeals the summary judgment dismissing his
claims against Defendants National Union Fire Insurance
Company, Lexington Insurance Company, Emanuel J. Benoit,
Brent C. Singleton, and American Eagle Logistics, LLC
(Defendants) on the issue of causation. Mr. Stelly was
injured as a result of a rear-end collision between Mark
Maras and Emanuel Benoit, after which Mr. Maras's vehicle
spun into the lane in which Mr. Stelly was traveling as a
guest passenger. The trial court found that the evidence
presented of Defendants' negligence was insufficient to
overcome the rebuttable presumption of Mr. Maras's
liability as a following motorist and granted Defendants'
joint Motion for Summary Judgment, thereby dismissing Mr.
Stelly's personal injury claims against them.
appeal, Mr. Stelly seeks reversal of the summary judgment and
the opportunity to prove comparative fault on the part of
Defendants, asserting that a disputed factual issue remains
as to whether Mr. Maras's negligence was the sole cause
of the accident. Mr. Stelly contends that, pursuant to the
sudden emergency doctrine, the evidence presents factual
questions regarding whether Defendants negligently created a
hazard that a following motorist could not reasonably avoid.
Mr. Stelly also alleges that Defendants' negligence in
hiring, supervising, and retaining Mr. Benoit as a
driver-employee contributed to the accident.
conducting a de novo review of the evidence, we find that
genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment. We
reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case
for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Stelly has additionally filed a Motion to Strike the Original
Brief of a later-added defendant, Cecilia Auto and Glass,
alleging that it lacks standing to file an appellate brief in
this matter because the judgment was not final as to Cecilia.
For the reasons that follow, we disagree. Defendants also
argue in their Original Appellee Brief that the Accident
Reconstruction Report prepared by Mr. Stelly's expert,
Michael Gillen, should be "stricken and
disregarded" by this court because it is
"unnecessary and unreliable" under La.Code Evid.
art. 702. We decline to do so for the reasons set forth
(1) whether the trial court erred in granting Defendants'
Motion for Summary Judgment;
(2) whether this court may strike Cecilia Auto and
Glass's appellate brief written in support of
Defendants' grant of summary judgment; and
(3) whether this court may strike and disregard
Plaintiff's expert report.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
20, 2012, Joseph Stelly Jr. was involved in an automobile
collision near the juncture of U.S. Highway 90 and Captain
Cade Road in Iberia Parish. Highway 90 is a four-lane highway
providing two lanes each for eastbound and westbound traffic,
divided by a grassy center median, with a posted speed limit
of 55 miles per hour. Captain Cade Road runs southbound and
perpendicular to Highway 90. Although the road is visible
from the highway, there is no intersection providing
motorists direct access to the road from the highway. The
only means of legally accessing Captain Cade Road from
Highway 90 East requires motorists to continue three-quarters
of a mile east past this juncture, take the exit ramp off of
Highway 90 onto L.A. Highway 88, and then backtrack onto a
service road which eventually becomes Captain Cade Road.
Located at this juncture is a convenience store, Food-N-Fun;
one side of its parking lot borders the right-hand lane of
Highway 90 East, while the other side borders Captain Cade
accident occurred at approximately 5:34 a.m. The sun had not
yet risen, but the weather was clear and the roads were dry.
Mr. Stelly was riding as a guest passenger in a Chevrolet
Silverado hauling a boat and trailer driven by Joseph
"Bobby" Belaire, traveling eastbound in the
left-hand lane of Highway 90. In the right-hand lane, Emanuel
J. Benoit was traveling eastbound in a Peterbilt
eighteen-wheel tractor hauling a black, empty flatbed utility
trailer owned by Brent C. Singleton, while in the course and
scope of his employment with American Eagle Logistics, LLC.
Approaching from the rear, a Hyundai Sonata driven by Mark
Maras followed Mr. Benoit's tractor-trailer in the
right-hand lane. On his way to pick up a shipment on Captain
Cade Road, Mr. Benoit prepared to make a right turn off of
the highway by slowing his vehicle and allegedly activating
his right turning signal. Rather than properly using the exit
ramp onto Highway 88, Mr. Benoit instead reduced his speed on
the highway to an estimated speed of ten to twenty miles per
hour, turned off the highway, and continued directly through
the Food-N-Fun parking lot onto Captain Cade Road. For
reasons unknown, Mr. Maras suddenly became aware of the
turning vehicle ahead and attempted to avoid a collision by
switching lanes ahead of Mr. Belaire's pickup truck in
the left lane. In doing so, however, the front right corner
of Mr. Maras's car clipped the left rear corner of the
tractor-trailer, sending the car spinning clockwise into the
path of Mr. Belaire's pickup truck traveling in the left
lane, which thereafter struck the passenger side of Mr.
Maras's car broadside. The impact caused a blowout of Mr.
Belaire's right tire, which resulted in the pickup truck
crossing the median and detaching from its trailer containing
the fishing boat. Following an investigation of the accident,
Mr. Benoit was issued a traffic citation for illegally
cutting through a private lot in violation of La.R.S.
32:101(C), for which he pled guilty and paid the fine. Mr.
Maras was also issued a traffic citation for careless
operation in violation of La.R.S. 32:58.
Stelly initially filed suit seeking damages against Mr.
Benoit, American Eagle Logistics, LLC, National Union Fire
Insurance Company, Lexington Insurance Company, and Brent C.
Singleton (hereinafter, "Defendants"). In his
petition, Mr. Stelly alleged that "Maras was unable to
timely see the illegally-equipped tractor-trailer and did not
have time to react to Mr. Benoit's illegal turn to
cut-through [sic] the Food-N-Fun parking lot." He also
alleged to have sustained severe and disabling injuries as a
result of the accident that required him to undergo several
preliminary discovery, Defendants filed a joint Motion for
Summary Judgment before the trial court. In support of their
motion, Defendants argued that the evidence presented could
not establish Defendants' actions as a cause-in-fact of
the accident, and thus, Mr. Maras was solely liable because
Mr. Stelly could not carry his burden in rebutting the
presumption of Mr. Maras's fault as a following motorist.
After the motion was filed, but before it was heard, Mr.
Stelly filed a Fourth Amended Petition naming additional
defendants, Cecilia Auto and Glass ("Cecilia") and
Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company.
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment was not amended
to include either additional defendant.
trial court granted the Motion for Summary Judgment and
dismissed Mr. Stelly's personal injury claims against
Defendants. It concluded that Mr. Stelly failed to present
evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption of Mr.
Maras's sole liability for the accident.
challenging this presumption on appeal, Mr. Stelly contends
that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment where
several genuine issues of material fact remain as to whether
Mr. Maras should be held solely liable for the accident.
Invoking the sudden emergency doctrine, he specifically
asserts that evidence of Mr. Benoit's receipt of a
traffic citation for illegally cutting through a private lot
and Defendants' failure to maintain required conspicuity
devices on the tractor-trailer, when taken together, present
factual questions regarding whether Defendants could have
negligently created a hazard that Mr. Maras could not
appellate court reviews summary judgments de novo, applying
the same criteria that govern the trial court's
determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate.
Schroeder v. Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ.,
591 So.2d 342 (La.1991).
mover bears the burden of proving that he is entitled to
summary judgment. La.Code Civ.P. art. 966(D)(1). However, if
the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the
subject matter of the motion, he need only demonstrate the
absence of factual support for one or more essential elements
of his opponent's claim, action, or defense. Id.
Thereafter, the non-moving party must "produce factual
support sufficient to establish the existence of a
genuine issue of material fact or that the mover is not
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id.
(emphasis added).  If the non-moving party fails to produce
evidence of a material factual dispute, the motion for
summary judgment must be granted. Babin v. Winn-Dixie
Louisiana, Inc., 00-78 (La. 6/30/00), 764 So.2d 37.
judgment is warranted only if the motion, memorandum, and
supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue as
to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law. La.Code Civ.P. art. 966(A)(3). Although
the summary judgment procedure is favored, it is not a
substitute for trial on the merits. S.J. v. Lafayette
Par. Sch. Bd., 06-2861 (La. 6/29/07), 959 So.2d 884. In
ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the trial
court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the
evidence, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine
issue of triable fact. Hines v. Garrett, 04-806 (La.
6/25/04), 876 So.2d 764. The trial court must construe
factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence in
favor of the party opposing the motion, and all doubt must be
resolved in his favor. Stroder v. Hilcorp Energy
Co., 17-1086, (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/4/18), 242 So.3d 1240.
Stated another way, "[i]f . . . there is any evidence in
the record from any source from which a reasonable inference
in the [nonmoving party's] favor may be drawn, the moving
party simply cannot obtain a summary judgment[.]"
Hines, 876 So.2d at 767 (alterations in original)
(quoting In re: Japanese Electronic Products Antitrust
Litigation, 723 F.2d 238, 258 (1983), rev'd on
other grounds sub nom. Matsushita Electric
Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106
S.Ct. 1348 (1986)).
acknowledging the legal presumption of Mr. Maras's
liability as a following motorist, Mr. Stelly argues that the
evidence establishes several genuine issues of material fact
as to whether Defendants could have negligently created a
hazard that Mr. Maras could not reasonably avoid, which would
sufficiently rebut the presumption pursuant to the sudden
emergency doctrine. Specifically, he asserts that a factual
dispute exists as to whether a sudden emergency was created
by Mr. Benoit's unnecessary slowing down on a high-speed
highway in order to illegally cut through a parking lot in
violation of La.R.S. 32:101(C), coupled with evidence of
Defendants' violations of mandatory federal and state
safety regulations requiring adequate conspicuity devices.
stated above, this court must undertake an independent review
of the record to determine whether genuine issues of material
fact remain in this matter and whether Defendants are
entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. "A
genuine issue is one as to which reasonable persons could
disagree; if reasonable persons could reach only one
conclusion, there is no need for trial on that issue and
summary judgment is appropriate." Jackson v. City of
New Orleans, 12-2742, pp. 5-6 (La. 1/28/14), 144 So.3d
876, 882. Material facts are those that potentially ensure or
preclude recovery, affect a litigant's success, or
determine the outcome of a legal dispute. Id.
Because it is "substantive law that determines
materiality, whether a particular fact in dispute is
'material' for summary judgment purposes can be seen
only in light of the substantive law applicable to the
Louisiana Supreme Court has applied the following duty-risk
analysis in negligence cases to determine whether liability
exists under the facts of a particular case:
Under this analysis, a plaintiff must prove five separate
elements: (1) the defendant had a duty to conform his or her
conduct to a specific standard of care; (2) the defendant
failed to conform his or her conduct to the appropriate
standard of care; (3) the defendant's substandard conduct
was a cause-in-fact of the plaintiff's injuries; (4) the
defendant's substandard conduct was a legal cause of the
plaintiff's injuries; and (5) actual damages.
Brewer v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., 09-1408,
09-1428, p. 14 (La. 3/16/10), 35 So.3d 230, 240.
a duty is owed is a question of law; whether a defendant has
breached a duty owed is a question of fact. Rando v. Anco
Insulations, Inc., 08-1163, 08-1169, (La. 5/22/09), 16
So.3d 1065. The duty owed by a following motorist is set
forth in La.R.S. 32:81(A), which provides that "[t]he
driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle
more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due
regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and
the condition of the highway." Thus, a following
motorist who strikes the rear-end of a leading vehicle is
presumed to have breached this statutory duty. Mart v.
Hill, 505 So.2d 120 (La.1987).
this court has held that "[a] motion for summary
judgment can be granted on the presumption that a following
motorist who strikes a leading motorist is negligent[,
]" we also recognize that a following motorist may
exonerate himself in a number of ways. Lewis v. Old
Republic Ins. Co., 17-456, p. 3 (La.App. 3 Cir.
8/23/17), 226 So.3d 557, 559. Generally, a following motorist
may rebut the presumption "by demonstrating that he or
she had his car under control, closely observed the preceding
vehicle, and followed at a safe distance under the
circumstances[.]" Leblanc v. Bouzon, 14-1041,
p. 4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/4/15), 159 So.3d 1144, 1146 (quoting
Garcia v. Stalsby, 11-350, p. 5 (La.App. 3 Cir.
12/14/11), 78 So.3d 873, 877, writ denied, 12-422
(La. 4/9/12), 85 So.3d 703). Alternatively, the following
motorist may also avoid statutory liability through
invocation of the sudden emergency doctrine, chiefly
"by proving that the driver of the preceding
vehicle negligently created a hazard which the following
motorist could not reasonably avoid."
Id. (alterations in original).
exception to the general rule stated above, the sudden
emergency doctrine is available to a person who finds himself
in a position of imminent peril and does not have sufficient
time to consider and weigh all of the best means available to
avoid that impending danger; such a person is not guilty of
negligence if he fails to adopt what subsequently and upon
reflection may appear to be the better method, unless the
emergency is brought about by his own negligence. Hickman
v. S. Pac. Transp. Co., 262 La. 102, 262 So.2d
385 (1972). However,
[t]he sudden emergency doctrine is not limited to situations
where the person claiming the benefit of the defense is the
person in immediate peril. Rather, it is the unanticipated
hazard which is the foundation for invoking the sudden
emergency doctrine. The rationale for the doctrine is the
principle that a person confronted with a sudden emergency,
who does not have sufficient time to weigh and consider the
best means to avoid an impending danger, should not be held
to the same standard of control, care, and caution as someone
who has ample opportunity to fully exercise judgment and
Whiddon v. Hutchinson, 94-2000, p. 6 (La.App. 1 Cir.
2/23/96), 668 So.2d 1368, 1374, writs denied,
96-731, 96-775 (La. 5/10/96), 672 So.2d 923 (citations
omitted). Therefore, by invoking the sudden emergency
doctrine in defending against the presumption of Mr.
Maras's sole liability, it became Mr. Stelly's burden
to present facts demonstrating that a genuine issue existed
not only regarding whether the following motorist was the
sole cause of the accident, but specifically as to whether
Mr. Maras faced an unanticipated hazard in encountering the
tractor-trailer driven by Mr. Benoit, who had superior
capacity in exercising judgment and reason as the favored
motorist on the highway.
is the primary issue here. In support of their joint Motion
for Summary Judgment, Defendants argued that Mr. Stelly could
not establish that any actions on the part of Defendants
caused or contributed to the accident giving rise to his
by definition, is a question of fact. As the Louisiana
Supreme Court has explained,
Defendant's conduct need not be the sole cause of the
harm but it must be a necessary antecedent. Stated another
way, if plaintiff can show that more probably than not he
would not have suffered damage, absent defendant's