Manasco v. Poplus

Decision Date12 September 1988
Docket NumberNo. 88-C-0538,88-C-0538
Citation530 So.2d 548
PartiesHarvey MANASCO v. Samuel POPLUS, Sr., and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. 530 So.2d 548
CourtLouisiana Supreme Court

William J. Doran, Jr., Norman Sisson, Sharon Lyles, DOTD Office Of General Counsel, Frank Gremillion, Baton Rouge, for applicant.

Robert W. Drouant, Heisler & Wysocki, Maria I. O'Bryne Stephenson, Bryan, Nelson, Allen & Schroeder, New Orleans, for respondents.

MARCUS, Justice.

Harvey Manasco filed suit against Samuel Poplus, Sr. and his insurer, American Southern Insurance Company, to recover damages for injuries he sustained as a result of an automobile accident. Plaintiff added the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), as a defendant by a supplemental and amending petition.

The accident occurred on a rainy day at about 12:00 noon on La 48 (River Road) near its intersection with Alliance Street in Kenner, Louisiana. Poplus was traveling west in his double axle dump truck in order to load it with sand. He had traveled this route several times that day. After Poplus executed a curve in the road, he noticed a stopped vehicle in his lane of travel waiting to turn left into a plant entrance. He first noticed the stopped vehicle from 35 feet or 300 feet away, depending on whether his trial or deposition testimony is correct. 1 He was traveling between 25 and 35 mph. The speed limit was 35 mph. Poplus applied his brakes and his dump truck began sliding on the wet pavement. He testified that when he realized he would be unable to stop before striking the vehicle, he veered to the right. The front bumper of his truck hit a fire hydrant in the ditch next to the shoulder, and the rear of his truck slid left into the eastbound lane striking plaintiff's van.

After trial on the merits, the trial judge rendered judgment in favor of plaintiff and against Poplus and DOTD in the amount of $73,314.42, together with legal interest and costs. He apportioned 75% of the fault to Poplus finding that he failed to apply sufficient braking measures early enough to avoid the accident and disregarded the longer braking distance required because of the wet condition of the highway. He apportioned 25% of the fault to DOTD finding that the shoulder of the highway near the scene of the accident was insufficient to provide for safe deviation from the main traffic lanes and was therefore unreasonably dangerous. The trial judge also found that the unreasonably dangerous condition "interfere[d] with a resolution of the emergency" because it caused defendant "to remain on the highway until he realized he had no alternative but to attempt to use the unusable shoulder" or to strike the vehicle stopped in his lane of travel. The court of appeal affirmed. 2 On DOTD's application, we granted certiorari to review the correctness of that decision. 3

Plaintiff contends DOTD's negligence in failing to properly maintain the roadway caused the accident and therefore DOTD is liable under La.Civ.Code art. 2315. He also contends DOTD is strictly liable for his injuries under La.Civ.Code art. 2317. Under both articles, liability hinges on whether the defendant has breached his duty to the plaintiff. While the basis for determining the existence of the duty is different in art. 2317 strict liability cases and in ordinary negligence cases, the duty that arises is the same. Kent v. Gulf States Utilities Co., 418 So.2d 493 (La.1982). DOTD's duty to travelers is to keep the state's highways and their shoulders in a reasonably safe condition. LeBlanc v. State, 419 So.2d 853 (La.1982); Sinitiere v. Lavergne, 391 So.2d 821 (La.1980). Whether DOTD breached this duty, that is, whether the roadway and shoulders at the scene of the accident were in an unreasonably dangerous condition, will depend upon the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Myers v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 493 So.2d 1170 (La.1986).

River Road is an undivided two-lane road with a gravel shoulder. It runs beside the Mississippi River levee and evolved from a cowpath. At one time, River Road carried all of the traffic between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Today, the interstate highway system primarily serves this function and River Road generally services local and commuter traffic. There is no record of the road's construction. In 1919, it was graded, which involves leveling the road to remove ruts and potholes. It was overlaid with 3 inches of asphalt in 1965 and with 2 inches of asphalt in 1975.

Robert Lipp, the expert for plaintiff, testified that the roadway was substandard under the American Association of State Highway Officials Specification and the State of Louisiana Department of Highways Design Standards for Rural Highways. 4 He concluded that "with the highway up to standards, it would've given Mr. Poplus an opportunity to miss the parked--the vehicle in the middle of the road because of the fact that it could've--there would be [an] adequate shoulder." Lipp also found the signing to be inadequate. In his opinion, the state should have warned that the road and curve were substandard and that there was a plant entrance approaching. Although Lipp admitted on cross-examination that there were no design standards before 1919, he...

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47 cases
  • Aucoin v. State Through Dept. of Transp. and Development
    • United States
    • Louisiana Supreme Court
    • April 24, 1998
    ...582 So.2d 1285 (La.1991). Breach of duty and reasonableness of the risk depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. Manasco v. Poplus, 530 So.2d 548 (La.1988); Hunter v. DOTD, 620 So.2d 1149 (La.1993). The standard of review is manifest error in cases where unreasonable risk of harm......
  • Thomas v. Petrolane Gas Service Ltd. Partnership
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US
    • September 27, 1991
    ...Holloway v. Dept. of Trans. & Devel., 555 So.2d 1341 (La.1990); Briggs v. Hartford Ins. Co., 532 So.2d 1154 (La.1988); Manasco v. Poplus, 530 So.2d 548 (La.1988); Myers v. St. Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 493 So.2d 1170 (La.1986); Dodson v. Webster Parish Police Jury, 564 So.2d 760 (La.App.2d ......
  • 94-705 La.App. 3 Cir. 2/15/95, Hasha v. Calcasieu Parish Police Jury
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US
    • February 15, 1995
    ...1378 (La.1992). Whether a breach of this duty has occurred depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Manasco v. Poplus, 530 So.2d 548 (La.1988). Additionally, it must be shown that the defective condition caused the accident. Valet v. City of Hammond, 577 So.2d 155 (La......
  • Boudreaux v. Farmer
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US
    • June 29, 1992
    ...134 (La.1983). Whether a breach of this duty has occurred depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Manasco v. Poplus, 530 So.2d 548 (La.1988). DOTD contends that its duty to maintain the highway in a safe condition was shifted to Earnest by the construction contract. ......
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