579 So.2d 973 (La. 1991), 90-C-2304, Housley v. Cerise

Docket Nº90-C-2304, 90-C-2324.
Citation579 So.2d 973
Party NameWilliam James Henry HOUSLEY, et al. v. Dr. Elmo CERISE, et al.
Case DateMay 06, 1991
CourtSupreme Court of Louisiana

Page 973

579 So.2d 973 (La. 1991)

William James Henry HOUSLEY, et al.

v.

Dr. Elmo CERISE, et al.

Nos. 90-C-2304, 90-C-2324.

Supreme Court of Louisiana.

May 6, 1991

Rehearing Granted in Part and Denied in Part June 13, 1991.

Page 974

Gerald J. Nielsen, Middleberg, Riddle & Gianna, New Orleans, for Dr. Elmo Cerise, et al., defendants-applicants.

Perrin C. Butler and Robert Stern, Butler & Stern, Metairie, for William James Henry Housley, et al., plaintiffs-respondents.

COLE, Justice.

Plaintiffs, Vickie Ann and William Housley, individually and on behalf of their minor daughter, Vickie Housley, filed suit against Dr. and Mrs. Elmo Cerise and their liability insurer, Aetna Casualty and Surety Company, for damages resulting from an alleged accident in a townhouse rented by the Housleys and owned by Dr. and Mrs. Cerise. On June 5, 1982, Mrs. Housley, who was six months pregnant at the time, was descending the stairway in the townhouse when she allegedly slipped on a large wet spot on the carpet. The wet spot was apparently caused by a leaking air conditioning unit. Plaintiffs claim the fall caused Mrs. Housley's water bag to rupture, which in turn caused her to undergo an emergency caesarean section four days later. Additionally, plaintiffs claim the

Page 975

premature birth of their daughter caused her to suffer serious health problems that will continue to afflict her throughout her life. Plaintiffs claim Dr. and Mrs. Cerise are strictly liable for the injuries caused by the defect in the leased premises (i.e., the leaking air conditioning unit), or alternatively, that they were negligent in failing to repair the unit after being warned of its defect.

After a bench trial on the merits, the trial court rendered judgment in favor of plaintiffs, awarding them $640,552.58 in damages. 1 The court was "impressed" with the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Housley and believed their contention that Mrs. Housley actually fell down the stairs. Likewise, the court found sufficient evidence that the fall caused Mrs. Housley's water bag to burst, which in turn caused the premature delivery of her daughter.

The Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit, reversed the trial court's judgment and rendered judgment in favor of defendants. Housley v. Cerise, 568 So.2d 571 (La.App. 4th Cir.1990). On the issue of whether Mrs. Housley actually fell down the stairs, the court of appeal reviewed the record and found that the trial court's finding was not manifestly erroneous. The court noted that Mrs. Housley's testimony was corroborated by her sister-in-law, Mary Bates, who testified she saw Mrs. Housley fall. The court, however, reversed on the issue of causation. The court concluded plaintiffs failed to prove, through medical testimony, that the premature birth of the child was caused more probably than not by the fall. The court stated:

Neither Dr. Labadie nor any other physician testifying in this case established that a fall more probably than not caused Mrs. Housley's rupture of membranes known as the water bag and the subsequent premature delivery of her daughter by caesarean section. Dr. Labadie testified only that a fall could have possibly caused the rupture of Mrs. Housley's water bag which precipitated her caesarean section or could have been considered a contributing factor to her problems. That testimony was insufficient to prove medical causation. (Citations omitted).

Id. at 575.

Both plaintiffs and defendants applied to this Court for writs of certiorari. Plaintiffs challenge the court of appeal's ruling on causation, and defendants challenge the court of appeal's affirmance of the trial court's ruling on the question of whether Mrs. Housley actually slipped and fell down the stairs of her apartment. We granted writs on these consolidated applications to review the judgment of the court of appeal. We now reverse and reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

I.

We first address the trial court's finding that Mrs. Housley actually fell. Defendants essentially argue the documentary evidence introduced at trial so strongly contradicts plaintiffs' allegations that the trial court's finding must be considered manifestly erroneous. According to defendants, the evidence introduced at trial strongly suggests the Housleys fabricated the story of Mrs. Housley's fall in an attempt to get Dr. and Mrs. Cerise's liability insurer to pay for medical bills, which were not covered by the Housley's health insurance. We find this argument unconvincing.

The trial court's finding that Mrs. Housley actually slipped and fell on the stairs of her apartment is a factual finding which should not be reversed on appeal absent manifest error. Rosell v. ESCO, 549 So.2d 840 (La.1989). In Mart v. Hill, 505 So.2d 1120 (La.1987), we again described the two-part test to be used for appellate review of fact:

1) the appellate court must find from the record that there is a reasonable factual basis for the finding of the trial court, and

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2) the appellate court must further determine that the record establishes that the finding is not clearly wrong (manifestly erroneous).

Id. at 1127. In essence, this test means a reviewing court must do more than simply review a record for some evidence which supports the trial court's finding; it must determine that the record, as a whole, establishes the trial court was justified in its conclusions. However, because the factfinder is best aware of the variations in demeanor and tone of voice that bear so heavily on the listener's understanding and belief in what is said, when there is a conflict in the testimony reasonable evaluations of credibility and reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review, even though the appellate court may feel that its own evaluations and inferences are as reasonable. Rosell, supra at 844; Arceneaux v. Domingue, 365 So.2d 1330 (La.1978). The reviewing court must always keep in mind that "if the trial court or jury's findings are reasonable in light of the record reviewed in its entirety, the court of appeal may not reverse, even though convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently." Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990). Consequently, when there are two permissible views of the evidence, the fact finder's choice between them cannot be manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. Sistler, supra at 1112. However, if documents or objective evidence so contradict the witness's story, or the story itself is so internally inconsistent or implausible on its face, that a reasonable fact finder would not credit the witness's story, the court of appeal may well find manifest error even in a finding purportedly based upon a credibility determination. Rosell, supra at 844-45.

In this case, plaintiffs offered the testimony of Mrs. Housley and her sister-in-law, Mary Bates, to support their contention that Mrs. Housley actually fell. Mrs. Housley testified that on June 5, 1982, she, Mary Bates, and two neighbors were inside Mrs. Housley's townhouse preparing for a barbecue that evening. Because of a leaking air conditioning unit located at the top of the staircase, most of the carpet near the top of the staircase was wet. Mrs. Housley stated she and her two neighbors were upstairs while Mary Bates was downstairs on the telephone. Just as Mrs. Housley and the neighbors were proceeding downstairs, Mrs. Housley slipped on the wet carpet. Apparently, her right leg remained on one step and her left leg slipped forward, causing her to fall onto her buttocks and strike her back on the stairs. Mary Bates and the other neighbors brought Mrs. Housley to her couch, and Mrs. Housley noticed she was losing fluid from her vaginal area. Mrs. Housley then called Dr. Labadie, her gynecologist, but got his answering service instead. After calling Dr. Labadie's office, Mrs. Housley remained on her couch with her legs elevated.

Mr. Housley returned home from work at approximately 4:30 p.m., and found his wife on the couch "crying and in pain." Later on that same evening, the Housleys went to the hospital. They were instructed to go to F. Edward Hebert Hospital but Mr. Housley, being unfamiliar with the location of F. Edward Hebert Hospital, brought Mrs. Housley to Jo Ellen Smith Hospital. Once at Jo Ellen Smith's emergency room, Mrs. Housley spoke with two nurses and one doctor and remembers telling at least one nurse about her fall. The personnel at Jo Ellen Smith Hospital informed Mrs. Housley the hospital only delivered babies in emergency situations and gave the Housley's directions to F. Edward Hebert Hospital. One of the nurses called the emergency room at Hebert and informed the nurses there of the Housleys' pending arrival. Additionally, one of the nurses at Jo Ellen Smith gave Mrs. Housley some papers to give to the Hebert emergency room nurse upon arrival. Both Mr. and Mrs. Housley testified nurses were waiting for them at Hebert's emergency room when they arrived. Mrs. Housley saw several nurses at Hebert, and remembers telling one of them about the fall. She could not, however, specifically remember which nurse she told.

Page 977

Mary Bates corroborated Mrs. Housley's testimony concerning the events that took place before Mrs. Housley went to the hospital. She was living with the Housleys at the time of the accident, and testified the carpet on the stairs had been wet for some time prior to June 5, 1982. She also stated she had overheard Mrs. Housley complain about the wet carpet to the apartment manager, Ewell Potts, III, on several occasions before the accident. On the day of the accident, she was downstairs using the telephone while Mrs. Housley was upstairs getting dressed. Mary Bates finished using the telephone and walked over to the bottom of the...

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592 practice notes
  • , 052504 LASC, 03C0492
    • United States
    • 25 Mayo 2004
    ...had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently." Id. at 882-83 (citing Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La.1991)) (quoting Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990)). To support their contention that ALSA was liable fo......
  • 155 So.3d 54 (La.App. 4 Cir. 2014), 2013-CA-1373, Williams v. Mathieu
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 29 Octubre 2014
    ...[2013-1373 La.App. 4 Cir. 4] Plaintiff is assisted in her burden of proving causation by the presumption described in Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La. 1991) wherein the Louisiana Supreme Court stated that: [a] claimant's disability is presumed to have resulted from an accident, if befo......
  • 630 So.2d 809 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1993), 92-941, Hines v. Remington Arms Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 3 Noviembre 1993
    ...conclusion was a reasonable one. See generally, Cosse v. Allen-Bradley Co., 601 So.2d 1349, 1351 (La.1992); Housley v. Page 821 Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La.1991); Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990). Even though an appellate court may feel its own evaluations an......
  • 636 So.2d 983 (La.App. 5 Cir. 1994), 93-CA-979, Langlinais v. Figueroa
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 29 Marzo 1994
    ...conclusion was a reasonable one. See generally, Cosse v. Allen-Bradley Co., 601 So.2d 1349, 1351 (La.1992); Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La.1991); Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990). Even though an appellate court may feel its own evaluations and inferen......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
591 cases
  • , 052504 LASC, 03C0492
    • United States
    • 25 Mayo 2004
    ...had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently." Id. at 882-83 (citing Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La.1991)) (quoting Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990)). To support their contention that ALSA was liable fo......
  • 155 So.3d 54 (La.App. 4 Cir. 2014), 2013-CA-1373, Williams v. Mathieu
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 29 Octubre 2014
    ...[2013-1373 La.App. 4 Cir. 4] Plaintiff is assisted in her burden of proving causation by the presumption described in Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La. 1991) wherein the Louisiana Supreme Court stated that: [a] claimant's disability is presumed to have resulted from an accident, if befo......
  • 630 So.2d 809 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1993), 92-941, Hines v. Remington Arms Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 3 Noviembre 1993
    ...conclusion was a reasonable one. See generally, Cosse v. Allen-Bradley Co., 601 So.2d 1349, 1351 (La.1992); Housley v. Page 821 Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La.1991); Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990). Even though an appellate court may feel its own evaluations an......
  • 636 So.2d 983 (La.App. 5 Cir. 1994), 93-CA-979, Langlinais v. Figueroa
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeals of Louisiana
    • 29 Marzo 1994
    ...conclusion was a reasonable one. See generally, Cosse v. Allen-Bradley Co., 601 So.2d 1349, 1351 (La.1992); Housley v. Cerise, 579 So.2d 973 (La.1991); Sistler v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 558 So.2d 1106, 1112 (La.1990). Even though an appellate court may feel its own evaluations and inferen......
  • Request a trial to view additional results