Appealed from the Eighteenth Judicial District Court In and
for the Parish of Iberville State of Louisiana Docket Number
74849 Honorable Alvin Batiste, Jr., Judge Presiding
M. Emonet Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee,
Ziegler Shelby Sarah K. Lunn Stephanie L. Willis Baton Rouge,
LA Counsel for Defendants/Appellants, Juan Morales, Plant
Performance Services, LLC & Continental Casualty Company.
S. Rester Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Third Party
Defendant/Appellee, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance
Company and April Burns.
BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., GUIDRY, AND CRAIN, JJ.
automobile accident case, defendants, Juan Morales, Jr.,
Plant Performance Services, LLC, and its insurer, Continental
Casualty Company, appeal from a judgment of the trial court
rendered in conformity with a jury's verdict in favor of
plaintiff, Patricia Settoon, and third party defendant, April
Burns. For the reasons that follow, we amend the judgment in
part and affirm as amended.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
morning of June 25, 2014, Mrs. Settoon, left her home in
Plaquemine, Louisiana, and was traveling in her Buick Enclave
heading north on Louisiana Highway 30 ("Hwy. 30")
to a medical appointment on Bluebonnet Boulevard in Baton
Rouge. From the time she got onto Hwy. 30, Mrs. Settoon
traveled behind an orange/red Chevrolet Avalanche truck
driven by Ms. April Burns. Although the speed limit was 55
miles per hour on Hwy. 30, Ms. Burns and Mrs. Settoon
testified that they were traveling at a speed of 40 to 45
miles per hour with a distance of approximately three to four
car lengths between them.
Morales was traveling South on Hwy. 30 in a Ford 250 extended
cab truck, pulling a twenty foot trailer carrying a 6,
000-pound forklift. Mr. Morales through his employment as a
project superintendent for Plant Performance Services, was in
the process of transporting equipment from their office
location on Highland Road to a new office location on Hwy.
Mr. Morales arrived at the business location, he attempted to
make a left turn into the first of two driveways entering the
property, pulling into the path of Ms. Burns and Mrs.
Settoon, who were approaching from the opposite direction.
Upon Mr. Morales's vehicle and trailer turning in front
of her, Ms. Burns applied her brakes and quickly looked into
her rear-view mirror. She noticed Mrs. Settoon following
behind her. Ms. Burns then "swerved" around Mr.
Morales's trailer, which was in the northbound lane of
Hwy. 30, to avoid hitting it. When Mrs. Settoon, who was
following Ms. Burns, noticed Ms. Burns's brake lights
come on, she applied her brakes and quickly realized that she
had to take the right shoulder or she would hit Ms.
Burns's vehicle from the rear. Mrs. Settoon testified
that she could not "slam" on her brakes because a
vehicle was following "very close" behind her. Mrs.
Settoon then went to the right shoulder to avoid hitting Ms.
Burns's vehicle and collided with the rear portion of Mr.
Morales's trailer on the shoulder of Hwy. 30. The impact
of the collision caused eight airbags in Mrs. Settoon's
vehicle to deploy and ultimately rendered her vehicle a total
loss as a result of the damages her vehicle sustained from
the impact of the collision. Mrs. Settoon hit her head upon
impact and was subsequently transported by ambulance to St.
Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales, Louisiana, for treatment.
Settoon subsequently filed a petition for damages against Mr.
Morales, Plant Performance Services, LLC, and its insurer,
Continental Casualty Company for injuries she sustained in
the accident. Mrs. Settoon averred therein that the
accident was caused solely by the fault of Mr. Morales in:
(1) failing to keep a proper lookout; (2) failing to keep his
vehicle under proper control; (3) failing to properly
maintain the vehicle; (4) failing to see what he should have
seen and if had seen, in failing to heed; (5) failing to
stop; (6) failing to maintain control; (7) operating his
vehicle in a wanton and reckless manner with no regard for
the rights and safety of others; and (8) making a left turn
in front of Ms. Settoon's vehicle. The defendants filed
an answer and third party demand against Ms. Burns and her
insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance ("State
Farm"), contending that Ms. Burns was at fault in
causing the accident herein.
matter ultimately proceeded to trial before a jury, and
following a four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict,
finding Mr. Morales was solely at fault in causing the
accident and awarding Mrs. Settoon the following damages:
Past Medical Expenses $36, 074.42
Future Medical Expenses $ 100, 000.00
Past Physical Pain and Suffering $65, 000.00
Future Physical Pain and Suffering $250, 000.00
Loss of Enjoyment of Life $25, 000.00
conformity with the jury's verdict, a judgment awarding
general and special damages, with interest, in the amount of
$476, 074.42 in favor of Mrs. Settoon and against defendants,
was signed by the trial court on October 25, 2018. The
judgment further provided that the defendants' third
party claims against Ms. Burns and State Farm were dismissed
defendants then filed the instant suspensive appeal from the
judgment of the trial court, assigning the following as
1. The trial court erred in failing to fully conduct the
three-step process required by Batson and its
progeny, permitting the plaintiff and third party defendant
to engage in purposeful discrimination in exercising
peremptory challenges, which deprived defendants of a fair
and impartial jury.
2. The trial court erred in failing to provide defendants
with its jury instructions within a reasonable time prior to
their closing arguments. This error was compounded because
the instruction given was incomplete and not supported by the
evidence, rendering the instructions confusing and misleading
to the jury.
3. The jury committed manifest error in allocating 100
percent fault to defendant Mr. Morales when the only
testimony to support this allocation was that of third party
defendant Ms. Burns, and Ms. Burns's testimony was so
internally inconsistent and implausible on its face that a
reasonable factfinder could not credit it.
4. The jury committed manifest error in its award of damages
where the special damages were not supported by the record,
and the plaintiff failed to mitigate her damages.
Challenges - Batson (Assignment of Error Number
their first assignment of error on appeal, defendants contend
that the trial court committed legal error by failing to
employ the three-step process articulated in Batson v.
Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69
(1986), alleging that "every white person had been
systematically stricken by opposing
counsel." The defendants further contend that when
presented with reasons for striking jurors, the trial court
"rubber-stamped" the reasons without performing the
last step in the Batson analysis, and that the
reasons asserted by plaintiff and third party defendant for
striking white jurors were a pretext for discrimination,
where similarly situated black juror were not struck.
Defendants suggest that as a result, the proper remedy is for
this court to remand the matter for a new trial.
private litigant in a civil case may not use peremptory
challenges to exclude jurors on the account of race. To do so
is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Edmonson
v. Leesville Concrete Company, Inc., 500 U.S. 614, 616,
HI S.Ct. 2077, 2080, 114 L.Ed.2d 660 (1991); see a]so
Grayson v. R.B. Ammon and Associates, Inc., 99-2597
(La.App. 1st Cir. 11/3/00), 778 So.2d 1, 7,
writs denied, 2000-3270 (La. 1/26/01), 782 So.2d
1026 and 2000-3311 (La. 1/26/01), 782 So.2d 1027.
and its progeny provide a three-step process to guide courts
in evaluating a claim of racial discrimination in the
voir dire process. State v. Crawford,
2014-2153 (La. 11/16/16), 218 So.3d 13, 30. First, the
challenging party must make a prima facie showing
that the opposing party exercised a peremptory challenge on
the basis of race. To establish a prima facie case,
the defendant must show: (1) the challenge was directed at a
member of a cognizable group; (2) the challenge was
peremptory rather than for cause; and (3) relevant
circumstances sufficient to raise an inference that the
prospective juror was struck on account of his being a member
of that cognizable group. See Batson, 476 U.S. at
96, 106 S.Ct. at 1723. Without an inference that the
prospective jurors were stricken because they are members of
the targeted group, the defendant is unable to make a