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Shelton v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 26, 2019

GAYNELL SHELTON Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS, SAFEWAY INSURANCE COMPANY AND MATLOCK INSURANCE AGENCY Defendants-Appellees

          Appealed from the Third Judicial District Court for the Parish of Lincoln, Louisiana Trial Court No. 58998 Honorable James H. Boddie, Jr. (Pro Tempore), Judge

          SIMTH & NWOKORIE, LLC Counsel for Appellant By: Brian G. Smith

          W. BRETT CAIN Counsel for Appellees, Christopher F. Williams and Safeway Insurance Company

          Before WILLIAMS, STONE, and COX, JJ.

          WILLIAMS, C.J.

         The plaintiff, Gaynell Shelton, appeals a trial court's judgment awarding her property damages in the amount of $1, 826, and denying her claims for the loss of the use of her vehicle and penalty damages pursuant to La. R.S. 22:1220. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         On January 10, 2017, the plaintiff, Gaynell Shelton, and the defendant, Christopher Williams, were involved in an automobile accident in Ruston, Louisiana. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was operating a 1986 Chevrolet G20 "cargo van," and Williams was operating a 2001 Toyota Avalon. Initially, the facts of the accident were in dispute. The plaintiff informed police officers that Williams hit her vehicle from behind and "fled the scene." Williams was stopped by a police officer a short time later. Williams told the officer that the plaintiff had "slammed on brakes" in front of him, and he did not believe his vehicle had made contact with the plaintiff's vehicle.

         After the accident, the plaintiff was able to drive her vehicle to her home in Bernice, Louisiana. However, during the trial, she testified that as a result of the accident, the lights were no longer working properly, and she was experiencing issues with the transmission. Therefore, she concluded that the vehicle was no longer drivable, and she stopped driving it.

         The day after the accident, the plaintiff presented a claim to Williams' automobile insurer, Safeway Insurance Company ("Safeway"). She asserted that Williams had caused the accident, and she had sustained bodily injuries and damage to her vehicle.

         On January 12, 2017, Safeway initiated an investigation into the plaintiff's claim. However, the insurer experienced difficulty reaching Williams, its insured, to obtain a statement from him with regard to the accident. After multiple attempts to contact Williams by telephone were unsuccessful, Safeway sent a field investigator to locate him. In the meantime, on January 19, 2017, Safeway had the plaintiff's vehicle inspected and determined that it was drivable; however, Safeway determined that the vehicle was a total loss.

         Following its investigation into the claim, Safeway concluded that Williams caused the accident.[1] Thereafter, an exchange of offers regarding the plaintiff's property damage took place between Safeway and plaintiff's counsel. On March 1, 2017, Safeway sent a letter to plaintiff's counsel which stated:

Your client's vehicle has been inspected by an appraiser and rendered a total loss. The fair market value of the vehicle is $1, 000.00 and it has a salvage value of $304.00. I am, at this time, offering to settle your client's property damage total loss for $1, 000.00, with Safeway retaining the vehicle or $696 [actual cash value] less salvage value with your client retaining the vehicle. ***

         After some telephone negotiations between a claims adjuster and plaintiff's counsel, on March 6, 2017, Safeway sent another letter to plaintiff's counsel stating:

Per your discussion with [the claims adjuster], the actual cash value of your client's vehicle has been revised. I am, at this time offering to settle your client's property damage total loss for $1, 400.00

(revised actual cash value) with your client retaining the vehicle. ***

         Subsequently, after further negotiations, on March 8, 2017, Safeway conveyed an offer to settle the plaintiff's property damage claim for $1, 826. On April 10, 2017, plaintiff's counsel faxed a letter to Safeway accepting the offer. In the letter, plaintiff's counsel stated:

Please accept this letter [as] our acceptance of your offer of $1, 826.00 regarding the payment of Ms. Shelton's vehicle.
Ms. Shelton understands that this offer includes Safeway obtaining the vehicle.

         On April 19, 2017, Safeway sent a settlement letter to ...


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