505 So.2d 1120 (La. 1987), 86-C-2191, Mart v. Hill

Docket Nº86-C-2191, 86-C-2200.
Citation505 So.2d 1120
Party NameRaymond J. MART v. James E. HILL, et al.
Case DateApril 16, 1987
CourtSupreme Court of Louisiana

Page 1120

505 So.2d 1120 (La. 1987)

Raymond J. MART

v.

James E. HILL, et al.

Nos. 86-C-2191, 86-C-2200.

Supreme Court of Louisiana.

April 16, 1987

Rehearing Denied May 28, 1987.

Page 1121

Herman L. Bastian, Jr., Law Office of Milton LeBlanc, New Orleans, for intervenor.

Dominic J. Gianna, Deborah D. Cunningham, Hammett, Leake & Hammett, New Orleans, for defendants.

A. Remy Fransen, Jr., C. Scott Carter, Wiedemann & Fransen, New Orleans, John J. McKeithen, Russell A. Woodard, McKeithen, Wear, Ryland & Woodard, Columbia, for plaintiff.

CALOGERO, Justice.

This litigation arose out of an accident which occurred on October 19, 1981, at approximately 7:30 p.m. just inside the Jefferson Parish line (from New Orleans) in the westbound (inside) paved shoulder of Interstate Highway 10, on the descending portion of the Oaklawn overpass. The plaintiff, Raymond J. Mart, allegedly sustained serious and disabling back injuries after his 1980 Toyota pick-up truck was rear-ended by a loaded tractor-trailer owned and operated by defendant James E. Hill.

Mart filed a petition for damages in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans, naming as defendants Hill, Intracoastal Truck Lines, Inc. (the lessee of the tractor-trailer and the employer of Hill), 1 and North River Insurance Company and International Surplus Lines Insurance Company (the insurers of Intracoastal Truck Lines, Inc.). 2 Pursuant to the provisions of La.Rev.Stat.Ann. 13:1171 (West 1987), the lawsuit was transferred to a Commissioner of the Civil District Court. After trial the Commissioner rendered a Report, Recommendation for Judgment, and Proposed Judgment. In the report the Commissioner found that plaintiff Mart and defendant Hill were each negligent, the accident having been caused 50% by each. The Commissioner found further that Mart sustained no disability beyond that incident to a three month lumbosacral strain and that Mart failed to prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the surgeries performed and the medical treatment rendered after January, 1982, were related to the accident of October 19, 1981. The Commissioner accordingly recommended a total damage award of $18,760.00 which, of course, was subject to the 50% reduction. 3 A judgment which adopted the Commissioner's recommendations was thereafter signed by the Judge of Division K of the Civil District Court.

Plaintiff Mart and the compensation intervenor, National Union Fire Insurance Company, appealed. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court judgment. 496 So.2d 1149 (La. App. 1986). We granted a Writ of Certiorari.

Because we find that the lower courts were clearly wrong in their percentage allocation of fault, in their assessment that Mart sustained no disability beyond that incident to a three month lumbosacral strain as a result of the accident, and in their assessment that Mart failed to prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the surgeries performed and the medical treatment rendered after January, 1982, were related to the accident of October 19, 1981, we reverse the lower court judgments and remand the case to the court of appeal for a determination concerning the appropriate amount of monetary judgment to be awarded plaintiff, all in accordance with this opinion.

The Accident

On October 19, 1981, Raymond J. Mart was employed by Bosun Diesel. He had spent the day working at Bluestreak Industries in Chalmette, Louisiana. After finishing the day's work, Mart left for his home in Kenner. He headed west on I-610 until the highway merged with I-10 near the Orleans-Jefferson line. At that point Mart

Page 1122

noticed that the tractor-trailer driven by Hill was "somewhat" behind him. 4 Before he reached the Oaklawn overpass, Mart had moved further to the left, into the inside lane of Interstate 10. As Mart crested the top of the Oaklawn overpass, he observed flashing lights at the bottom of the overpass, and he noticed that traffic was backing up onto the descending portion of the overpass. Mart testified that he would have been able to stop his vehicle with little difficulty behind the vehicle immediately in front of him in his then left traffic lane. However, because he had noticed Hill's tractor-trailer behind him and was concerned about its ability to stop, he moved left to the paved interior shoulder of the Interstate which paralleled the left hand traffic lane. Mart did not look in his mirror before moving to the shoulder. Once on the paved shoulder, he stopped his vehicle with his front bumper aligned with the rear bumper of the last vehicle in line in the left traffic lane. Although Mart testified there was nothing blocking the left shoulder of the road onto which he had proceeded, 5 he stopped his vehicle because he thought it was illegal to drive on the shoulder. 6

Defendant's version of the events leading up to the accident was somewhat different from that offered by Mart. As Hill and his tractor-trailer crested the Oaklawn overpass, he viewed the same scene on the overpass' descent as had confronted Mart. At the time Hill was travelling approximately 50 to 55 miles per hour in his fully loaded tractor-trailer. According to Hill, he knew something had to be done if he was to avoid hitting the cars in front of him. Hill then maneuvered his truck onto the left (internal) paved shoulder of the highway. As he was moving the tractor-trailer left to the shoulder, he saw Mart's Toyota pull out of the left lane of travel, onto the shoulder, and into his path, where it then stopped. According to Hill, Mart's Toyota was not the last car in the line of traffic, but was rather the third or fourth car from the end of the stalled line of traffic.

Hill's tractor-trailer then rear-ended the Toyota. After the collision, the witness, Irwin J. LaVergne (see supra note 5) saw the Toyota veer off left onto a grassy median area of the Interstate before it came to a stop.

Allocation of Fault

We have characterized "duty-risk" analysis as the process to be employed in determining whether liability exists under the facts of a given case. In making the requisite analysis four questions are to be considered:

(1) Was the conduct in question a cause-in-fact of the resulting harm?

(2) What, if any, duties were owed by the respective parties?

(3) Were the requisite duties breached?

(4) Was the risk, and harm caused, within the scope of protection afforded by the duty breached?

Pierre v. Allstate Insurance Company, 257 La. 471, 242 So.2d 821 (1970); Shelton v. Aetna Casualty and Surety Co., 334 So.2d 406 (La.1976); Hill v. Lundin and Associates, Inc., 260 La. 542, 256 So.2d 620 (1972).

The negligence of the following driver, Hill, in this rear-end collision, hardly needs extensive discussion or analysis. The liability of a rear-ending driver has been defined and clarified in a plethora of Louisiana decisions. The duty owed by Hill has been statutorily set out in La.Rev.

Page 1123

Stat.Ann. § 32:81 (West 1963) which provides, in pertinent part:

The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.

Louisiana courts have uniformily held that a following motorist in a rear-end collision is presumed to have breached the standard of conduct prescribed in La.Rev.Stat.Ann. 32:81 and hence is presumed negligent. See, e.g., Eubanks v. Brasseal, 310 So.2d 550, 553 (La.1975); Prest v. State Dept. of Transp., 490 So.2d 659 (La.App. 2d Cir.); writ denied, 494 So.2d 328 (La.1986); Lewis v. Variste, 422 So.2d 222 (La.App. 4th Cir.1982). We also note that the risk of a rear-end collision (whether the collision occurs in an emergency lane, or in a travelled portion of a roadway) is clearly within the scope of the statutory prohibition against following too close.

Hill's conduct was indeed a cause in fact of the resulting harm: he breached a duty he owed to the plaintiff Mart and others, and both the risk and the harm caused were within the scope of protection afforded by the duty breached.

Turning to an analysis of Mart's conduct, we find the Commissioner was correct in finding that Mart's conduct contributed to the accident. Mart admittedly did not look in his mirrors before moving to the emergency lane, or shoulder. Mart's inadvertence or neglect in this regard was a cause-in-fact of the accident. If Mart had looked he would have seen the tractor-trailer moving to the shoulder, and he would surely have stayed in his left lane of travel and this accident would thereby have been averted. 7 Mart admittedly breached the general duty owed by all motorists to observe what should be observed. Accordingly, we find Mart's negligence contributed to the accident.

Having found both parties negligent, we turn to the matter of apportionment of fault. In Watson v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Ins. Co., 469 So.2d 967 (La.1985), we looked to the Uniform Comparative Fault Act, § 2(b) and Comments (as revised in 1979) for guidelines in apportioning comparative fault. Section 2(b) provides:

In determining the percentages of fault, the trier of fact shall consider both the nature of the conduct of each party at fault and the extent of the causal relationship between the conduct and the damages claimed.

Watson, 469 So.2d at 974.

We also noted in Watson that a variety of other factors may influence the respective degrees of fault:

In assessing the nature of the conduct of the parties, various factors may influence the degree of fault assigned, including (1) whether 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...

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