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Causey v. New Orleans Regional Transit Authority

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

March 20, 2019

CHRISTOPHER CAUSEY, SR. AND LYNETTE MUSE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NATURAL PARENTS OF CHRISTOPHER CAUSEY, JR. AND PRISCILLA HOPKINS
v.
NEW ORLEANS REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY AND VEOLIA TRANSPORTATION SERVICES, INC.

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2015-00534, DIVISION "B-1" Honorable Rachael Johnson

          LOBRANO, J., CONCURS IN THE RESULT. John Paul Massicot LAW OFFICE OF JOHN PAUL MASSICOT, LLC COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT

          Michael J. Hall Jonique Martin Hall Law Office of Michael J. Hall, L.L.C. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          Court composed of Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Tiffany G. Chase

          Tiffany G. Chase Judge.

         This is a tort action arising out of an incident which occurred while plaintiffs were passengers on a bus operated by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (hereinafter "RTA"). The trial court found plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proof in establishing that defendants were negligent and liable for their injuries. After consideration of the record before this Court, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Plaintiffs Christopher Causey, Sr., Lynette Muse, Christopher Causey, Jr. and Priscilla Hopkins[1] were passengers on a RTA bus traveling on Williams Boulevard in Jefferson Parish. The bus was being driven by RTA employee, Quelton Broussard (hereinafter "Mr. Broussard"). While proceeding on the route, Mr. Broussard suddenly applied his brakes. Plaintiffs filed a petition for damages alleging the bus driver suddenly and unnecessarily applied brakes, causing plaintiffs to be injured. Mr. Causey maintained he injured his back and leg when Ms. Hopkins fell on his right leg causing him to hit his leg against the support pole on the bus. Ms. Hopkins alleged she injured her back, spine, and additional body parts and suffered from headaches as a result of being ejected from her seat. Ms. Muse asserted she injured her wrist, neck, face, and back and suffered from headaches as a result of being ejected from her seat and hitting another seat. Lastly, plaintiffs alleged Mr. Causey and Ms. Muse's minor son, Christopher Causey, Jr., injured his head and chest as a result of striking his head against the seat. RTA maintained that the sudden brake was a result of Mr. Broussard's attempt to avoid a collision with another vehicle crossing in front of the bus thus, creating a sudden emergency situation. As such, RTA denied negligence on its part.

         Prior to trial, plaintiffs filed a motion in limine for an adverse presumption arguing RTA failed to properly preserve video footage from the bus which would have depicted the incident at issue. The trial court granted the motion finding that RTA was negligent in the handling of the video footage, thus determining that an adverse presumption was warranted. RTA sought supervisory review of the ruling with this Court, which was denied.[2]

         A bench trial was held on July 13, 2017. By amended judgment dated July 18, 2018, the trial court found that plaintiffs failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that RTA was negligent and liable for plaintiffs' injuries.[3] This appeal followed.

         Discussion

         This Court reviews factual findings of the trial court under a manifest error standard of review. In order to reverse the findings of the trial court, we must determine that the finding was clearly wrong and not based on a reasonable factual basis. Rabalais v. Nash, 2006-0999, p. 4 (La. 3/9/07), 952 So.2d 653, 657.

         Plaintiffs assert that the trial court's ruling was in error based on the evidence offered coupled with the grant of their motion in limine for an adverse presumption. At the onset, we note that although an adverse presumption regarding the video footage of the bus has been applied, that presumption does not end the causation inquiry. See Jones v. Trailor, 1993-2144, p. 7 (La.App. 4 Cir. 4/28/94), 636 So.2d 1112, 1118. The plaintiff is nonetheless tasked with proving negligence on the part of the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. The trial court determined that the plaintiffs' failed to meet their burden of proof. We find no error in the trial court's decision.

         The central issue before this Court is whether plaintiffs have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the bus driver's conduct was negligent and the cause of their injuries. In order to prove negligence a duty/risk analysis is employed. Marshall v. Jazz Casino Co., 2015-1192, p. 6 (La.App. 4 Cir. 6/29/16), 197 So.3d 316, 320. "Under this analysis, a plaintiff must prove that the conduct in question was a cause-in-fact of the resulting harm, the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, the requisite duty was breached by the defendant, and the risk of harm was within the scope of protection afforded by the duty breached." LeJeune v. Union Pacific R.R., 1997-1843, p. 6 (La. 4/14/98), 712 So.2d 491, 494. All elements must be affirmatively answered in order for a plaintiff to ...


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