KELLY DOUCET, ET AL.
HORNET SERVICE COMPANY, ET AL.
FROM THE THIRTY-FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
JEFFERSON DAVIS, NO. C-107-14 HONORABLE C. STEVE GUNNELL,
Kenneth A. Doggett, Jr. Attorney at Law Counsel for
Plaintiffs/Appellants: Kelly Doucet Brittany Lacombe
Patrick T. Daniel Rachel Martin-Deckelmann Daniel &
Associates Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant: Michael Ceasar
Michael J. Remondet, Jr. Jeansonne & Remondet COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES: Colony Insurance Company Kenneth DeMary
Hornet Service Company, LLC
composed of Shannon J. Gremillion, Candyce G. Perret, and
Jonathan W. Perry, Judges.
SHANNON J. GREMILLION JUDGE
Kelly Doucet and Brittany Lacombe, appeal the trial
court's judgment in favor of defendants/appellees,
Kenneth DeMary, Hornet Service Company, and Colony Insurance
Company. Plaintiff/appellant, Michael Ceasar, appeals the
jury's verdict in favor of defendants/appellees. These
matters were tried in a bifurcated proceeding. For the
reasons that follow, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE
case asserts claims for personal injuries that appellants
alleged they incurred in a motor vehicle accident on March 5,
2013, in the parking lot of Chad's Pawn Shop in Jennings,
Louisiana. DeMary, an employee of Hornet Service Company, was
driving a 2007 Dodge Ram 2500 company-owned truck on a
personal mission to pay a bill owed to Chad's. While in
Chad's, DeMary overheard Doucet discussing a prior
accident and her need to retain an attorney to represent her
in connection with that accident. Appellants testified that
Doucet never even entered Chad's and that she and Ceasar
remained in Doucet's vehicle while Lacombe and another
passenger, Akeem Nixon, entered Chad's to pawn a DVD
player and some discs.
DeMary was leaving Chad's, he testified, his truck was
idling in reverse. Although he had checked behind him to
ensure he could back out safely and saw no vehicles behind
him, DeMary struck the vehicle occupied by the appellants.
Appellants testified that their vehicle, owned by Doucet, was
the third vehicle in a line attempting to exit the lot and
that they were completely stopped behind DeMary's vehicle
when he backed into them. Ceasar testified that the force
with which DeMary struck them almost rolled Doucet's
vehicle over. This impact, though, created a barely
discernable, fist-sized dent in the passenger-side door of
Doucet's car roughly the size of DeMary's
car had other damage along the passenger side. Appellants
denied that any damage to the door pre-existed the subject
collision. However, Sergeant Ricky Benoit of the Jennings
Police Department, who responded to the accident, had worked
another collision on February 24, 2013, in which Doucet's
car received moderate side-swipe damage to the passenger
side, including the front passenger door and front fender.
Doucet denied that the door was damaged in the February
Benoit testified that he was dispatched to Chad's
regarding the subject accident. The Jennings Police
Department's policy is that Louisiana Uniform Crash
Reports are only prepared following a collision on private
property if there are injuries. While Sergeant Benoit had
little recollection of the accident at trial-five years
later-he was aware that he did not prepare a report, which
means that no one reported any injuries at the scene.
Appellants each testified that Sergeant Benoit did not ask
whether they were injured.
the plaintiffs sought any treatment for injuries alleged to
have been incurred in this accident for over a month.
Lacombe, however, did go to the emergency room at Jennings
American Legion Hospital, complaining only of right rib pain
and denying that she suffered any trauma. All three
plaintiffs saw Dr. Charles Deese, a Jennings chiropractor,
for neck and back complaints. All three then saw Dr. David
Barczyk, a Lafayette chiropractor. All three then saw Dr.
Donald Dietze, a neurosurgeon in Baton Rouge who later
stopped seeing patients in that city in favor of Lacombe,
Louisiana, where he apparently continued to treat plaintiffs
up to the date of trial. All three were diagnosed by Dr.
Dietze with cervical disc disorders. Ceasar was also
diagnosed with a lumbar disc herniation at the L5-S1 level
for which an anterior discectomy and intervertebral body
fusion was performed by Dr. Dietze in December 2014.
Plaintiffs cumulated the present action with the filing of a
joint petition for damages on February 21, 2014. During the
course of the litigation, the parties vigorously contested
issues that were deemed by this court to be
"excessive" and "frivolous," including
the claim that DeMary was intoxicated and the applicability
of the Federal Motor Carrier Act. Doucet v. Hornet Serv.
Co., 19-241, p. 6 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/22/19), 273 So.3d
378, 382. (Holding that the trial court did not err in
revoking Ceasar's pauper status and that he was not
entitled to a reduction in the estimated appeal costs of
$56, 225.50 in the present matter because of his
abuse of the integrity of the judicial process).
the contested minutiae was the entitlement of Defendants to
obtain independent medical examinations (IME) of Doucet and
Ceasar by Dr. Michael Holland, an orthopedic surgeon in
Jennings. After having been ordered to submit to an IME,
Doucet and Ceasar refused to cooperate in the examination.
Ceasar had been instructed to not speak to Dr. Holland, and
he followed those instructions. Doucet refused to don a
clinical gown for the examination. Dr. Holland was unable to
even ascertain that Ceasar had undergone lumbar disc surgery
because of the limitations he encountered in his IME. The
parties also bickered about Dr. Holland's deposition,
which will be discussed more fully later.
matter eventually was tried, beginning on August 20, 2018.
Ceasar's case was tried to a jury, while Doucet's and
Lacombe's to the trial court judge. At trial, the
deposition of Dr. Dietze was presented to the jury regarding
his treatment of Ceasar. Dr. Holland testified in person. The
jury returned a verdict on August 23, 2018, in which they
found that neither DeMary nor Doucet were negligent. The
trial court took Doucet's and Lacombe's cases under
advisement. On October 12, 2018, the trial court issued the
following written reasons, quoted in pertinent part:
After reviewing the testimony, evidence, and arguments of
counsel, the Court makes the following findings in this case.
The jury's verdict found that none of the drivers
-DOUCET, DEMARY, or HORNET SERVICE COMPANY-were negligent. As
a result, no damages were awarded to the plaintiff CEASAR.
The plaintiffs have the burden of proof to show by a
preponderance of the evidence that DEMARY was at fault for
causing the accident and that the plaintiff suffered damages
as a result. The Court can only speculate that CEASAR failed
to carry that burden in front of the jury which resulted in
As to the remaining plaintiffs, the Court finds that DEMARY,
as a driver who is backing up his vehicle, had a duty of care
and attention and to make sure that it was safe to back his
vehicle. At the same time, DOUCET also had a duty to take
reasonable steps to avoid the accident if she saw that DEMARY
was backing up in the parking lot. Both DEMARY and DOUCET
testified at trial that they had looked around before
beginning to drive their vehicles and that neither one saw
the other before the accident. Given the conflicting
testimony and evidence presented at trial, the Court finds
that DEMARY and DOUCET should each be found 50% at fault for
causing this accident. Both drivers had a duty to see what
should have been seen, and both drivers failed to perform
The plaintiffs also claimed that DEMARY was in the course and
scope of his employment at the time of the accident, and
therefore, HORNET SERVICE COMPANY should also bear some
liability for the accident as well. The testimony at trial by
DEMARY was that he was at Chad's Pawn Shop on March 5,
2013, in order to pay a personal bill. DEMARY stated that he
was not on-call at the time of the accident and that he was a
permissive user of the company vehicle. The Court finds that
there was no credible testimony by any witness at trial to
dispute DEMARY's version of events that he was conducting
a personal errand at the time of the accident. Consequently,
the Court finds that DEMARY was not in the course and scope
of his employment at the time of the accident.
As to the issue of damages, as stated above, this was a
low-speed, low-impact accident in the parking lot of
Chad's Pawn Shop. At trial, all of the plaintiffs
testified that the impact was so hard that it almost flipped
the car. They also testified that there was no prior damage
to the vehicle before this accident. However, the defendants
called Officer Ricky Benoit of the Jennings Police Department
as a witness, and he testified that DOUCET had been in
another accident in the same vehicle a few weeks prior to the
instant accident. The prior accident was described as a
"side-swipe" accident that resulted in moderate
damage to the same door panel that was affected in the
instant accident. There were several pictures of the vehicle
and door panel presented at trial, and after review, the
Court believes that most of the damage to the vehicle was a
result of the previous accident. There was minimal damage to
the vehicle as a result of the parking lot accident, and the
testimony of the plaintiffs about the severity of the
accident was not believable to the Court.
In addition, the Court had several problems with the
credibility of DOUCET and LACOMBE with regard to the alleged
damages they claimed they sustained. Both DOUCET's and
LACOMBE's medical records for the years prior to the
instant accident were introduced by the defense at trial.
DOUCET alone visited the emergency room of the Jennings
American Legion Hospital thirty-one (31) times in the few
years before and after the accident for issues such as
toothaches, falls, and bruised fingers; however, she did not
go for medical care after the accident in question until over
a month had passed. Furthermore, some of the injuries that
DOUCET claimed were a result of this accident (spinal,
shoulder, neck, and knee injuries) were also reported
previously to the doctors in the ER in the years before the
accident. Finally, the defense's expert, Dr. Michael
Holland, testified that his professional opinion was that
DOUCET was not injured as a result of this accident. DOUCET
also refused to be physically examined by Dr. Holland during
an IME on the advice of her attorney. Consequently, the Court
finds that DOUCET was not a credible witness and that she did
not suffer any damages as a result of the accident in
With regard to LACOMBE, the Court makes similar findings.
LACOMBE had fifteen (15) visits to the ER in the few years
prior to the accident for issues such as bug bites, ulcers,
and a sore throat. Three (3) days after the accident, LACOMBE
went to the hospital for her alleged injuries. According to
her own testimony, the ER doctors sent her home because she
was not injured. In addition, LACOMBE was also a passenger in
DOUCET's vehicle in the prior side-swipe accident that
caused moderate damage. Based upon her own testimony and the
medical records, the Court finds that LACOMBE was not a
credible witness and that she did not suffer any damages as a
result of the accident in question. The Court finds that both
DOUCET and LACOMBE were untruthful in their testimony and
that their version of events was not believable.
filed a motion for new trial and for judgment notwithstanding
the verdict on September 10, 2018. That motion was heard by
the trial court on September 25. Although the transcript of
that hearing is not contained in the record, the minutes are,
and they reflect that the trial court felt that the
credibility of Ceasar, Doucet, and Lacombe were seriously
questioned not only by the trial court but also the jury.
Ceasar's motion was denied.
then perfected devolutive appeals.
Ceasar presents the following as his assignments of error:
1. A de novo analysis is mandated to harmonize
irreconcilable/inconsistent verdicts in bifurcated trials
when the jury found NO party at fault and the judge
apportioned fault 50/50 between the parties.
2. The jury's analysis was manifestly erroneous because
it assigned NO fault to any party and fault did not
reach 100% as demanded by the Louisiana Supreme Court in its