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Langlinais v. LeBlanc

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 17, 2019

CHAD LANGLINAIS AND WENDY LEJEUNE
v.
DERRICK LEBLANC, ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 2015-3602, DIV. H HONORABLE RONALD F. WARE, DISTRICT JUDGE

          H. Alston Johnson, III Phelps, Dunbar LLP COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS: Derrick Leblanc Calcasieu Parish Police Jury

          Michael J. Williamson Plauche, Smith & Nieset LLC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS: Derrick Leblanc Calcasieu Parish Police Jury

          Robert I. Siegel Gieger, LaBorde & Laperouse, L.L.C. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: Berkley Insurance Company.

          Barry A. Roach Christopher S. Lacombe Larry A. Roach, Inc. 2917 Ryan Street COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES: Wendy Lejeune Chad Langlinais.

          John R. Shea John Shea & Associates COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES: Chad Langlinais Wendy Lejeune.

          Thomas M. Daigle Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES: Chad Langlinais Wendy Lejeune.

          Court composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, D. Kent Savoie, and Jonathan W. Perry, Judges.

          ELIZABETH A. PICKETT, JUDGE

         After the vehicle in which they were traveling was hit from behind, the two plaintiffs filed suit against the driver of the vehicle that hit them, his employer, and the employer's insurer to recover damages for the injuries they claimed to have suffered as a result of the accident. The matter was tried before a jury which awarded damages to one plaintiff but not the other. Each plaintiff filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) which the trial court granted. The defendants appealed. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and amend in part, the trial court's judgments granting the JNOV.

         FACTS

         On June 15, 2015, Chad Langlinais and Wendy Lejeune, his girlfriend, were traveling together in Chad's truck in Lake Charles. Chad stopped his truck at a red light and waited to make a left turn. Derrick Leblanc was traveling behind Chad's truck in a van owned by the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury (CPPJ) and insured by Berkley Insurance Company. Derrick failed to stop the van and collided with the rear of Chad's truck.

         Chad and Wendy filed suit against Derrick, CPPJ, and Berkley to recover damages for personal injuries they claim to have suffered in the accident (the accident). Chad asserted that his back and neck were injured in the accident, and Wendy asserted that her neck, back, and face were injured in the accident.

         The matter was tried before a jury in October 2017. The parties stipulated that Leblanc was acting in the course and scope of his employment with CPPJ at the time of the accident, and his vault caused the accident. The extent of the damages Chad and Wendy suffered as a result of the accident was greatly contested because both of them had pre-existing neck injuries. Before and at the time of the accident, they were in a pain management program to address the pain and other symptoms they suffered as a result of their prior neck injuries. They argue the impact of the van was severe and aggravated their pre-existing neck conditions, as well as caused new injuries. Chad testified that the accident occurred without warning when the CPPJ van "plowed" into his truck and that the repairs to his truck totaled $17, 000.00. They introduced photographs of both vehicles and Wendy's face to establish the severity of the collision. The defendants established that both Chad and Wendy had serious credibility issues.

         On October 13, 2017, the jury rendered its verdicts on Chad's and Wendy's claims. The jury awarded Chad damages for past medical expenses in the amount of $125, 000.00, past loss of earnings and earning capacity in the amount of $100, 000.00, and past pain and suffering in the amount of $5, 000.00, but denied his remaining claims for damages. The jury did not award Wendy any damages for her claims. The trial court signed judgments in conformity with the jury's verdicts.

         Chad and Wendy each filed a motion for JNOV or, in the alternative, motion for new trial. After a hearing on the motions, the trial court granted the motions for JNOV as requested. It increased Chad's damage awards and awarded Wendy damages. The defendants appealed and now assign two errors with the trial court's actions.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         1. The trial judge erred in granting the plaintiffs' motions for [JNOV] as to the damage awards, replacing the jury's considered and unanimous verdict with his own view of appropriate damages; or in the alternative, if the judgment[s] NOV [were] properly granted, the awards of damages in [them] are an abuse of discretion.

         2.The trial judge erred in failing to order reversionary trusts as required by La. R.S. 13:5106(B)(3)(a) to be created for the awards of future medical expenses which he made in the judgments NOV, to be disbursed only in accordance with that statutory provision; and he erred in adding judicial interest to awards of future medical expenses which he made in the judgments NOV.

         JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT

         A JNOV allows the trial court to modify the jury's findings to correct a jury's verdict as to liability or damages. La.Code Civ.P. art. 1811. Our supreme court outlined the criteria for granting such relief in Joseph v. Broussard Rice Mill, Inc., 00-628, pp. 4-5 (La. 10/30/00), 772 So.2d 94, 99 (citations omitted):

The motion should be granted only when the evidence points so strongly in favor of the moving party that reasonable persons could not reach different conclusions, not merely when there is a preponderance of evidence for the mover. The motion should be denied if there is evidence opposed to the motion which is of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions. In making this determination, the trial court should not evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, and all reasonable inferences or factual questions should be resolved in favor of the non-moving party.

         Appellate courts apply the same standard to determine whether the trial court properly granted the JNOV. Pitts v. La Med. Mut. Ins. Co., 16-1232 (La. 3/15/17), 218 So.3d 58. If a trial court properly grants a JNOV, it becomes the trier of fact and makes "an independent assessment of the damages and award[s] a proper amount of compensation under the facts of the particular case." Anderson v. New Orleans Pub. Servs., Inc., 583 So.2d 829, 834 (La. 1991). On appeal, the trial court's damage awards are reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. Id. Pursuant to the abuse of discretion standard of review, the appellate court considers the damage awards in light of the facts and circumstances of the particular case before the court. Miller v. LAMMICO, 07-1352 (La. 1/16/08), 973 So.2d 693. Consideration of prior damage awards is appropriate only if the review of facts shows an abuse of discretion by the fact finder. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         Chad argued in his motion for JNOV that all but one of the jury's damage awards were "abusively low and reasonable persons could not arrive at a similar verdict" and that the jury's award for his past pain and suffering was inconsistent with the jury's other damage awards. Wendy argued that the jury's refusal to award her damages was unreasonable in light of the medical evidence she presented at trial. The defendants opposed both motions. They argued that based on Chad's and Wendy's histories of untruthfulness, the jury validly determined that their claims for aggravation ...


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