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Hill v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

November 13, 2019

GILES HILL
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF LAFAYETTE, NO. 2017-6842 HONORABLE JULES D. EDWARDS, DISTRICT JUDGE

          David O. Way Kenny L. Oliver Oliver & Way, L.L.C. Counsel for Defendants/Appellees: State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company Sabrina Davis

          Jerome H. Moroux Broussard & David, LLC Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant: Giles Hill

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Phyllis M. Keaty, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.

          PHYLLIS M. KEATY JUDGE

         Plaintiff appeals the trial court's judgment regarding allocation of fault and general damages. For the following reasons, the trial court's judgment is affirmed as amended.

         FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This personal injury lawsuit involves an automobile collision which occurred in Broussard, Louisiana, between a left turning vehicle and another vehicle that was attempting to pass. On January 5, 2017, Giles Hill was driving a Dodge truck east on Louisiana Highway 92 (Young Street) near the intersection of Marteau Road. As he proceeded east, Hill approached from the rear a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Sabrina Davis. As Hill attempted to pass Davis's vehicle from the left side, Davis attempted to make a left turn onto Marteau Road. A collision occurred between both vehicles.

         On November 27, 2017, Hill filed a petition for damages seeking medical expenses and damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of earnings, and loss of earning capacity. Plaintiff's petition named as Defendants Davis and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, as the insurer of the vehicle driven by Davis. He alleged that the collision occurred because Davis failed to maintain a proper lookout, failed to remain attentive, operated her vehicle in a careless and reckless fashion, and operated her vehicle at an unsafe speed. As a result, Plaintiff alleged that he sustained injuries to his left hand, neck, upper back, and lower back.

         On February 19, 2019, a bench trial on the merits occurred. The trial court was tasked with determining: (1) whether the accident occurred within a legal passing zone; (2) whether Hill had control of the passing lane at the time of the accident; (3) whether Davis, when making the left turn, failed to observe Hill passing; and (4) whether the accident caused Hill's injuries. The trial court discussed the duties imposed on a left turning driver as well as a passing driver, i.e., La.R.S. 32:104, La.R.S. 32:75, and La.R.S. 32:76. It determined that Hill and Davis violated the applicable statutes. The trial court considered the totality of the circumstances and found the parties contributorily negligent in causing the accident. It allocated 95% of the fault to Hill and 5% of the fault to Davis.

         The trial court next considered the medical evidence presented at trial and concluded that the accident caused Hill's injuries. It awarded him $18, 720.38, which was broken down as follows:

General Damages $2, 000.00
Past Lost Wages $6, 400.00
Past Medical Expenses $10, 320.38

         The award was reduced by 95% for a total award of $936.02. Costs were assessed to the parties based upon their allocation of fault. The trial court's judgment was signed on February 22, 2019.

         Hill appeals the trial court's judgment and alleges the following assignments of error: (1) "The trial court erred in allocating fault in the manner between the parties[;]" and (2) "The trial court abused its discretion in awarding only $2, 000.00 in general damages for the injuries Hill sustained and for the treatment Hill obtained as a result of the accident."

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In Duncan v. Kansas City Southern Railway Co., 00-66, pp. 10-11 (La. 10/30/00), 773 So.2d 670, 680-81, the Louisiana Supreme Court explained the standard of review regarding comparative fault determinations as follows:

As with other factual determinations, the trier of fact is vested with much discretion in its allocation of fault. [Clement v. Frey, 95-1119 (La. 1/16/96), 666 So.2d 607]. Therefore, an appellate court should only disturb the trier of fact's allocation of fault when it is clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous. Only after making a determination that the trier of fact's apportionment of fault is clearly wrong can an appellate court disturb the award, and then only to the extent of lowering it or raising it to the highest or lowest point respectively which is reasonably within the trial court's discretion. Clement, 666 So.2d at 611; Coco v. Winston Industries, Inc., 341 So.2d 332, 335 (La.1977).

         In determining whether the trial court was clearly wrong in its allocation of fault, the appellate court is guided by the following factors set forth in Watson v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Insurance Co., 469 So.2d 967, 974 (La.1985):

(1) [W]hether the conduct resulted from inadvertence or involved an awareness of the danger, (2) how great a risk was created by the conduct, (3) the significance of what was sought by the conduct, (4) the capacities of the actor, whether superior or inferior, and (5) any extenuating circumstances which might require the actor to proceed in haste, without proper thought. And, of course, as evidenced by concepts such as last clear chance, the relationship between the fault/negligent conduct and the harm to the plaintiff are considerations in determining the relative fault of the parties.

         These same factors guide the appellate court's decision with respect to the highest or lowest percentage of fault that could ...


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