Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ridgel v. Chevalier

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

January 8, 2020

LOUIS RIDGEL
v.
MITCHELL CHEVALIER, ST. BERNARD PARISH FIRE DEPARTMENT THROUGH THE ST. BERNARD PARISH GOVERNMENT, AND LEXINGTON INSURANCE COMPANY

          Appeal From St. Bernard 34th Judicial District Court No. 119-826, Division "C" Honorable Kim C. Jones, Judge Presiding.

          John J. Finckbeiner, Jr. LAW OFFICE OF JOHN FINCKBEINER, JR. COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE.

          Perry M. Nicosia District Attorney David C. Jarrell OFFICE OF THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR THE PARISH OF ST. BERNARD COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.

          Court composed of Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Regina Bartholomew-Woods, Judge Dale N. Atkins.

          Dale N. Atkins Judge.

         This is 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.

         For reasons that follow, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         On 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 lane.

         Mr. 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.

         On 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 prejudice.

         A bench 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 Louisiana; and
(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 Louisiana.

         Additionally, 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 Report;
(5) Exhibit E in globo - Pictures of the Accident Site; and
(6) Exhibit F in globo - Fradella's Collision Center Estimate for Louis Ridgel.

         At trial, the following witnesses testified regarding the accident: Deputy Brian Canepa ("Deputy Canepa"), Mr. Chevalier, Captain Ellis, and Mr. Ridgel.

         Deputy Canepa's Testimony

         Deputy 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.[1]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.

         Deputy 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.

         Mr. Chevalier's Testimony

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Further, 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 each other.

         Mr. 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.

         Captain Ellis' Testimony

         Captain 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.

         Captain 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."

         Mr. Ridgel's Testimony

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         On October 30, 2018, the trial court rendered its judgment and written reasons:

(1) Finding Appellants liable, in solido, for the automobile accident that occurred on ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.