A three-judge panel from the FirstCircuit Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling finding the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development at fault for the severe injuries suffered by Evelyn “Joy” Menard when her vehicle struck an out-of-service signal wire hanging under the Essen Lane overpass.
The accident occurred in 2004 but the wire had been hanging under the I-12 bridge for decades, having been installed by the DOTD in 1967 and decommissioned in 1976. The wire had sagged over time and, by the time of the accident, was low enough that it was pulled down by a passing 18-wheeler. Ms. Menard was travelling behind the 18-wheeler and her car became entangled in the downed wire, pulling her vehicle violently sideways, injuring her lower back and leaving her totally disabled.
At trial, DOTD acknowledged that following the decommission of the signal in 1976, it had no record of inspecting or servicing the wire, the pole, traffic signal, or any other component part of the signal governing the entrance to the intersection where the accident occurred. Ms. Menard’s expert testified that DOTD’s abandonment of the wire without inspection or any effort to maintain it rendered the wire unreasonably dangerous, especially in light of the risk of the wire sagging over time.
The jury awarded Ms. Menard over $1.6 million in damages, but trial court judge reduced the general damages portion of the award to $500,000.00, pursuant to the statutory cap on judgments against the State. The total award to Ms. Menard was just over $1.3 million.
DOTD appealed the decision, alleging, among other things, that the jury’s allocation of 100% of fault to the DOTD was in error. The agency believed that the jury should have placed some percentage of fault on the unknown driver of the 18-wheeler. It argued that the evidence showed the 18-wheeler was unreasonably tall, in violation of the Louisiana Revised Statue mandating that all vehicles be less than 14-feet in height. The Court disagreed.
The evidence at trial showed that the 18-wheeler was able to clear the 16-foot tall overpass without incident. Although there was testimony that the 18-wheeler may have been “too tall for the area,” there was no witness who could confirm its exact height.
The Court found that the evidence in the record did not definitively establish that the 18-wheeler driver violated any statutory duty and, therefore, the jury did not err by finding that the wire must have sagged well below the mandatory height of 20-feet above the roadway. Accordingly, the First Circuit affirmed the trial court’s finding that DOTD was 100% liable for the accident and affirmed the award of $1.3 million to Ms. Menard.
The attorneys at Broussard & David have the knowledge and experience necessary to handle cases of this nature and will fight to obtain fair compensation for your injuries. If you or a loved one has suffered harm as a result of the negligence of another, contact the attorneys at Broussard & David to discuss your legal rights at (337) 233-2323 (local) or (888) 337-2323 (toll-free).