From St. Bernard 34th Judicial District Court No. 119-826,
Division "C" Honorable Kim C. Jones, Judge
J. Finckbeiner, Jr. LAW OFFICE OF JOHN FINCKBEINER, JR.
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE.
M. Nicosia District Attorney David C. Jarrell OFFICE OF THE
DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR THE PARISH OF ST. BERNARD COUNSEL FOR
composed of Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Regina
Bartholomew-Woods, Judge Dale N. Atkins.
N. Atkins Judge.
a personal injury case. Appellant, Mitchell Chevalier
("Mr. Chevalier"), appeals the trial court's
October 30, 2018 judgment finding Mr. Chevalier and the St.
Bernard Fire Department ("SBFD"), through the St.
Bernard Parish Government, (hereinafter collectively referred
to as "Appellants"), liable, in solido,
for an automobile accident that occurred between them and
Appellee, Louis Ridgel ("Mr. Ridgel"), and awarding
Mr. Ridgel a total of $143, 074.00 in damages, which included
$20, 523.00 in medical special damages; $2, 551.00 in
property damages; and $120, 000.00 in general damages.
Appellants appeal this judgment.
reasons that follow, we affirm.
October 29, 2011, Mr. Ridgel and Mr. Chevalier were involved
in an automobile accident. Mr. Chevalier was operating a fire
truck in the course and scope of his employment with SBFD.
The parties do not dispute that the accident occurred at the
intersection of West Judge Perez Drive and Alexander Avenue
in St. Bernard Parish. West Judge Perez Drive is a roadway
with two travel lanes that are unidirectional, and Alexander
Avenue is a side street off West Judge Perez Drive with one
Chevalier, along with Norman Ellis ("Captain
Ellis"), a captain with SBFD, were responding to an
emergency call when the accident occurred. Captain Ellis was
in the passenger seat of the fire truck driven by Mr.
Chevalier on the day of the accident.
October 11, 2012, Mr. Ridgel filed a personal injury claim
against Appellants and Lexington Insurance Company,
Appellants' liability insurer, for the injuries he
sustained from the accident. On October 3, 2018, Mr. Ridgel
moved to dismiss Lexington Insurance Company, with prejudice,
as a named defendant in the action. On the same day, the
trial court dismissed Lexington Insurance Company with
trial commenced on October 4, 2018, with the remaining
parties- Mr. Ridgel and Appellants. On the same day, the
parties jointly stipulated to the following:
(1) On October 29, 2011, Louis Ridgel was the owner and
operator of a 2007 Saturn Vue/Outlook traveling westbound on
West Judge Perez Drive, prior to the Intersection at
Alexander Avenue, in the Parish of St. Bernard, State of
(2) On October 29, 2011, the St. Bernard Parish government
was the owner of the 2007 KME Fire Truck, operated by
defendant, Mitchell Chevalier who at all times herein was in
the course and scope of his employment with the St. Bernard
Parish Fire Department and who was traveling westbound on
West Judge Perez Drive, prior to the intersection at
Alexander Avenue, in the Parish of St. Bernard, State of
the parties jointly stipulated to the following exhibits:
(1) Exhibit A - State of Louisiana Uniform Motor Vehicle
Traffic Crash Report;
(2) Exhibit B - St. Bernard Parish Government's Insurance
Policy with Lexington Insurance Company;
(3) Exhibit C in globo - Louis Ridgel's Medical Records;
(4) Exhibit D - Louis Ridgel's Damages Itemization
(5) Exhibit E in globo - Pictures of the Accident Site; and
(6) Exhibit F in globo - Fradella's Collision Center
Estimate for Louis Ridgel.
trial, the following witnesses testified regarding the
accident: Deputy Brian Canepa ("Deputy Canepa"),
Mr. Chevalier, Captain Ellis, and Mr. Ridgel.
Canepa, the responding officer on the scene of the accident,
testified to what was stipulated in the police report. While
he recalled that the fire truck was traveling eastbound on
"Judge Perez Drive," the police report indicates
and the parties agree that they were traveling westbound on
West Judge Perez Drive.Deputy Canepa testified that he reported
the fire truck was driving toward the center of both lanes
and that his diagram documented that the fire truck was
attempting to make a "wide right turn" off West
Judge Perez Drive onto Alexander Avenue. He explained that
Alexander Avenue is a narrow road and opined that it would
require an emergency vehicle make a "wide right
turn" in order to safely turn onto the street. Also,
Deputy Canepa recalled Mr. Chevalier stating he was driving
in the middle of both lanes.
Canepa testified that his report indicated that Mr. Ridgel
initially stated the fire truck's emergency lights and
sirens were on when he noticed the fire truck approaching,
but later Mr. Ridgel stated that he did not see any emergency
lights or hear sirens. Deputy Canepa testified that he could
not personally recall Mr. Ridgel's statements regarding
the emergency sirens and lights, but that the inconsistent
statements were documented in his report. He testified that
he documented the accident as best he could despite Mr.
Ridgel's inconsistent statements regarding the emergency
lights and sirens. Also, Deputy Canepa could not personally
testify as to whether the fire truck's emergency lights
and sirens were on when he arrived at the scene. He stated no
citations were issued. However, Deputy Canepa testified that,
based on the damages on both of the vehicles and the
statements of Mr. Chevalier and Mr. Ridgel, the accident was
"pretty clear cut," but acknowledged that he did
not possess the training to determine fault of the parties.
Chevalier testified that he was hired as a firefighter for
St. Bernard Parish in August 2010 and became a certified
engineer two months prior to the accident in August 2011. He
explained that a certified engineer can drive a fire truck.
Chevalier testified that, on the day of the accident, he was
sitting in the fire truck when he received an emergency call.
He indicated that Captain Ellis accompanied him on the ride.
Mr. Chevalier recounted that, upon gathering all the required
information from the emergency call, he turned on the
emergency lights, and Captain Ellis turned on the sirens. He
testified they pulled out of the station, stopped at the stop
sign, and proceeded to drive once he noticed many of the cars
yield for them. Mr. Chevalier recounted he made a right on
West Judge Perez Drive and immediately entered into the left
lane. He testified he traveled to the next block, crossed
over the railroad tracks, looked into his rearview mirror,
and put on his "blinker" to signal he was turning
right on Alexander Avenue. Mr. Chevalier stated that, when he
looked in his rearview mirror, he saw a car approaching the
railroad tracks behind him in the right lane that appeared to
be slowing down, but saw no other cars. He then proceeded to
turn on Alexander Avenue. Mr. Chevalier testified he expected
the car behind him to slow down because the fire truck had
its emergency sirens and lights on. Additionally, Mr.
Chevalier noted that the fire truck has a cautionary sign on
the back of it that reads, "[s]tay back 500 feet."
Mr. Chevalier testified that he, personally, slows down upon
seeing an emergency vehicle with a cautionary sign advising
motorists to stay a certain distance away.
Mr. Chevalier testified that he was traveling the speed
limit, and that he could not have been traveling over the
speed limit because the fire truck cannot accelerate fast
given its weight and the weight of the gallons of water on
the truck. Mr. Chevalier testified that, when he was
preparing to turn, he heard a noise. He explained that it was
at that time Captain Ellis informed him that he had collided
with a passenger vehicle. Mr. Chevalier testified that he
could not determine whether the car he saw behind him was the
same car involved in the collision. He further testified he
and the other driver of the vehicle exited and apologized to
Chevalier indicated the damage to the fire truck was located
by the passenger side rear tire well. He also testified he
disagreed with the police report indicating that he was
driving in the middle of both lanes, as he recalled he was
driving in the left lane. However, Mr. Chevalier testified
that, to make a turn onto Alexander Avenue from the left lane
on West Judge Perez Drive, he had to cross the middle of the
lanes, crossing over the right lane.
Ellis also testified about the accident, and confirmed that
he was the passenger in the fire truck with Mr. Chevalier on
the day of the accident. He testified the fire truck made a
right turn on West Judge Perez Drive and entered into the
left lane with the emergency lights and sirens on. He,
however, testified that the fire truck could have traveled
into the right lane for a short time prior to turning onto
Alexander Avenue. Captain Ellis further testified that Mr.
Chevalier was not speeding and estimated that Mr. Chevalier
was traveling about twenty (20) miles per hour, even though
he acknowledged that this estimation was mere speculation as
he could not see the odometer from the passenger seat.
Captain Ellis stated that he could not confirm whether Mr.
Chevalier had his "blinkers" on as he turned onto
Alexander Avenue because he could not see. Captain Ellis
testified that Mr. Chevalier informed him, however, that his
"blinkers" were on at this time.
Ellis testified the first time he was aware that Mr.
Chevalier had hit Mr. Ridgel was when he heard the noise as
they were turning right onto Alexander Avenue. He stated that
he did not see the vehicle prior to making the turn. Captain
Ellis testified that he saw Mr. Ridgel once he got out of the
fire truck. He stated that Mr. Ridgel's car collided with
the fire truck "towards the back wheel well."
Ridgel testified about the accident and the property damage
to his vehicle, as well as the injuries he sustained as a
result of the accident. Mr. Ridgel testified that he was
driving westbound in the left lane on West Judge Perez Drive,
approaching the railroad tracks, when the fire truck driven
by Mr. Chevalier passed him. He testified the fire truck then
pulled into the left lane and almost immediately made a right
turn. Mr. Ridgel stated that he pulled into the right lane
because the fire truck got so close to his vehicle that he
was afraid that he might rear-end it, so he slowed down. He
testified that he was originally driving about twenty-five
(25) miles per hour and slowed down to twenty (20) miles per
hour. Further, Mr. Ridgel testified that he pulled to the
side of the road as far as he could, but the fire truck still
hit his vehicle. He stated that he could not get over enough
to avoid the collision because he would have driven his car
into a ditch. Mr. Ridgel testified he had no opportunity to
yield because Mr. Chevalier pulled in front of him and
immediately slowed down, preparing to turn. Mr. Ridgel
further testified Mr. Chevalier's actions caused him to
pull over to the right in an effort to avoid hitting the rear
of the fire truck.
Ridgel also testified that he did not see the fire truck turn
on any "blinkers," and he did not see any emergency
lights nor did he hear sirens. After the collision occurred,
he testified that Captain Ellis got out of the fire truck to
see if he was okay and apologized, saying that Mr. Chevalier
was a "young driver and was inexperienced." He
testified that the right rear wheel well of the fire truck
hit his left bumper and front quarter panel. Mr. Ridgel
testified that he paid a total of $2, 551.00 to repair the
damages to his car.
Ridgel testified regarding the injuries he sustained from the
accident. He explained that he did not feel pain immediately,
but within a couple of days, the pain started. He had pain in
his left shoulder, his neck, and "down his shoulder
blade through his arm." He testified that he first
sought medical treatment about "a week to two
weeks" after the accident. He explained that he was
trying to provide homecare for the pain, but because the pain
worsened, he sought medical treatment. Mr. Ridgel testified
he first sought treatment from Dr. Sylvi Beaumont ("Dr.
Beaumont"), a chiropractor, who administered physical
therapy. Dr. Beaumont referred him to a masseuse for massage
therapy. He testified that, at the time he started treatment
with Dr. Beaumont, he was unable to work due to his injuries
from the accident. He explained he buys homes to renovate and
would do most of the work on his own. He testified that his
activities were restricted to attending the therapy sessions
with Dr. Beaumont.
Ridgel testified that he stopped seeing Dr. Beaumont in June
2013, and started seeing Dr. John Olson ("Dr.
Olson"), a neurologist, who recommended that he receive
a Magnetic Resonance Imaging ("MRI") scan of his
neck, back, and shoulder. He testified that he could not
recall if he went back to Dr. Olson for the results. However,
Mr. Ridgel indicated that from June 2013 through September
2015, he did not see any doctors for injuries he sustained
from the accident. He explained that he had severe health
issues unrelated to the accident that required attention,
such as four (4) surgeries for periodontal disease, an
enlarged prostate that was recommended for removal, and a
partial nephrectomy, in which part of his kidney was removed.
Ridgel testified that he resumed treatment for his injuries
from the accident with Dr. Domingo De Los Reyes ("Dr. De
Los Reyes"), a chiropractor, in September 2015. He
explained that Dr. De Los Reyes provided "muscle
manipulation" treatment and other physical therapy. Mr.
Ridgel testified that, at the time of trial, he was receiving
treatment from Dr. De Los Reyes. He also testified that he
still experienced pain from his injuries.
October 30, 2018, the trial court rendered its judgment and
(1) Finding Appellants liable, in solido, for the
automobile accident that occurred on ...