Learn About the Law
Get help with your legal needs
FindLaw’s Learn About the Law features thousands of informational articles to help you understand your options. And if you’re ready to hire an attorney, find one in your area who can help.
JOANN HELEN McGILL v. GEICO GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY, ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, AND CHRISTIN E. LACOMBE
This is an appeal from a judgment finding the driver on a favored roadway in a two-car accident had no fault in the accident. After review, we affirm.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On June 18, 2015, JoAnn Helen McGill was a guest passenger in a 2007 Toyota Matrix owned and operated by Christin E. Lacombe. Ms. Lacombe was driving eastbound on Crossing Way, the main boulevard in the Juban Crossing shopping center in Livingston Parish. Janie L. Scott was driving her 2013 Chevrolet Equinox on a two lane road in the shopping center parking lot at the same time and had a stop sign at the intersection with Crossing Way. Ms. Scott stopped at the stop sign, then drove across Crossing Way past the median, pulled into Ms. Lacombe's lane, and collided with Ms. Lacombe. Ms. McGill was injured.
Ms. McGill filed suit against Ms. Lacombe and Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate), Ms. Lacombe's liability insurer.1 Ms. Lacombe and Allstate filed an answer denying liability and maintaining that the accident was caused solely by Ms. Scott's negligence. Ms. Lacombe and Allstate filed a motion for summary judgment on March 22, 2022. The motion for summary judgment was denied on July 19, 2022.
The case proceeded to a bench trial on January 4, 2023. Thereafter, the trial court ruled in favor of Ms. Lacombe and Allstate, dismissing all of Ms. McGill's claims. The judgment was signed on February 7, 2023. Ms. McGill appealed the judgment.
In her two assignments of error, Ms. McGill asserts that the trial court was manifestly erroneous and clearly wrong in finding that Ms. Lacombe did not have any fault in the accident, and that the trial court erred in failing to award any damages to her for the injuries she sustained in the accident.
In assignment of error number one, Ms. McGill maintains that the trial court erred in finding that Ms. Lacombe did not have any fault in the accident.2 When reviewing factual findings made by the trier of fact, including the allocation of fault, this court is required to apply the manifest error standard of review. Stobart v. State, through Department of Transportation and Development, 617 So.2d 880, 882 (La. 1993). The issue to be resolved by a reviewing court is not whether the trial court was right or wrong, but whether its conclusion was reasonable. Adams v. Rhodia, Inc., 2007-2110 (La. 5/21/08), 983 So.2d 798, 806. If the trial court findings are reasonable in light of the record reviewed in its entirety, a reviewing court may not reverse, even though convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently. Stobart, 617 So.2d at 882-883.
Ms. Lacombe was driving on Crossing Way, the shopping center's main boulevard, to exit the shopping center and was driving on the favored roadway. Ms. Scott was driving on a two-lane road and had a stop sign at the intersection with Crossing Way. Ms. Scott testified that she stopped at the stop sign and looked in both directions. She crossed the first two lanes of Crossing Way to the median, where a “big old sign” in the median obstructed her view of traffic on the other side of the median. Ms. Scott crossed the median at ten to twenty miles an hour and drove into Ms. Lacombe's lane. Ms. Scott stated, “I was right in her lane when [I] saw her.”
Ms. McGill does not dispute that Ms. Scott had a duty to yield to the traffic traveling on the boulevard. However, Ms. McGill maintains that Ms. Lacombe should have been assessed some degree of comparative fault for failure to exercise ordinary and reasonable care. Ms. McGill further argues that the trial court erred in its decision to give no weight to Professor A.J. McPhate's expert opinion. Professor McPhate, an expert in vehicular crash analysis and accident reconstruction, testified that both drivers contributed to the crash and both had fault.
Professor McPhate testified on cross-examination that at the time he wrote his report on the accident, he did not have the benefit of the deposition testimony of Ms. McGill, Ms. Lacombe, or Ms. Scott. He further testified:
Q. You know that in her deposition, since you've said you've now reviewed it, Ms. Scott talked about, not only the stop sign, but there was a Juban Crossing sign that played a role in the accident. Am I fair with you?
A. Yes, she did. She said it did.
Q. That would affect, to some degree, your opinion that you confected before you even knew about that sign, because there's no mention of the sign in the police report; is that true?
A. No, there isn't.
Q. No, there isn't a mention of the sign?
A. Not in her police report.
Q. But certainly, since you've now reviewed Ms. Scott's deposition, you know that she testified that a sign, not the stop sign, play a role in this accident; is that true?
A. She said she felt that it obscured [her] vision of [Ms. Lacombe's vehicle], yes.
In her deposition on January 10, 2018, Ms. McGill testified that at the time of the accident, Ms. Lacombe was driving safely and at a safe speed, and that she was comfortable with the way Ms. Lacombe was driving. Ms. McGill testified that she saw the other vehicle just right before impact with “[e]nough [time] for me to say, 'Christin, watch out' and ․ she was slamming the brakes.” Ms. McGill was asked, “Did it appear to you that she reacted timely to that other vehicle by trying to stop?” and replied, “I would say yes.” Ms. McGill was asked, “The other vehicle came from a stop sign, where it should have stopped, and came into the lane of travel that Christin was in, correct?” She answered, “Correct.” She was asked, “And as far as you could see, Christin did everything appropriate to try and stop and avoid that vehicle, correct?” She answered, “Yes.” At the trial on January 4, 2023, Ms. McGill testified that Ms. Lacombe was “doing something with the dashboard” when she told her to “watch out.” Ms. McGill admitted that she never mentioned the dashboard at her deposition and that the facts of the accident were fresher in her mind at her deposition than at the time of the trial.
Credibility determinations are for the trier of fact, even as to the evaluation of expert witness testimony. A fact-finder may accept or reject the opinion expressed by an expert, in whole or in part. The trier of fact may substitute common sense and judgment for that of an expert witness when such a substitution appears warranted on the record as a whole. Green v. K-Mart Corp., 2003-2495 (La. 5/25/04), 874 So.2d 838, 843.
In its reasons for judgment, the trial court stated, “it appears that Ms. Lacombe did everything, what she was supposed to do, and could not have avoided the accident.” We find that after viewing the record in its entirety, these factual findings are reasonable. See Stobart, 617 So.2d at 882-883. Thus, we find no manifest error in the trial court's finding that Ms. Lacombe did not have any fault in the accident.3 Therefore, the trial court judgment is affirmed.
For the foregoing reasons, the February 7, 2023 trial court judgment dismissing all of Joann Helen McGill's claims against Christin E. Lacombe and Allstate Insurance Company is affirmed. Costs of this appeal are assessed against Joann Helen McGill.
1. Ms. McGill also named as defendants Geico General Insurance Company (her uninsured/underinsured insurance carrier), Ms. Scott, and Progressive Security Insurance Company (Ms. Scott's liability insurer). After reaching settlements with those parties, Ms. McGill filed motions to dismiss those parties from the suit with prejudice, and the motions were granted by the trial court.
2. As the accident happened on private property, the case must be judged under the general tort law of the state. However, the General Highway Regulatory Act regarding the regulation of vehicular movement on public streets and highways is persuasive in determining the degree of care expected of a motorist in the operation of his vehicle. Dwyer v. Travelers Ins. Co., 253 So.2d 679, 681 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1971).
3. In light of this determination we need not address the second assignment of error, the failure of the trial court to award damages to Ms. McGill.
Response sent, thank you
A free source of state and federal court opinions, state laws, and the United States Code. For more information about the legal concepts addressed by these cases and statutes visit FindLaw's Learn About the Law.
Docket No: DOCKET NUMBER 2023 CA 0649
Decided: November 03, 2023
Court: Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit.
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)
FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)