Defense Verdict for Bus Company in New Orleans – March 2015
Guy Perrier and Curt Rome of Perrier & Lacoste, LLC obtained a defense verdict in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, Louisiana for Wisconsin Coach Lines, Inc. and its driver, Larry Westphal. Following a five-day trial and 2 ½ hours of jury deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of no liability in the matter of Lillie Rea v. Wisconsin Coach Lines and Larry Westphal, 2:12-cv—1252, U.S. Dist. Ct. for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Such verdicts are uncommon in New Orleans and came after a significant amount of pre-trial investigation and posturing.
The case arose out of an accident that occurred at approximately 8:30 p.m. on March 29, 2011 on the corner of N. Peters Street and Canal Street in New Orleans. Plaintiff was driving a Toyota Camry owned by her mother. Defendant Larry Westphal was operating a Wisconsin Coach Lines motor coach carrying approximately 45 passengers. Plaintiff alleged that the accident caused injuries to her neck and back. The neck injury required a cervical fusion at the C5-6 level. Medical testimony presented suggested that the back injury may require a microdiscectomy at the L5-S1 level as well as possible epidural steroid injections and treatment for the remainder of Plaintiff’s life.
Plaintiff’s past medical expenses were $151,000 and the future medical expenses presented to the jury were over $2,000,000. She also claimed a lost future earning capacity of $583,000. The total special damages claim was over $2.75 million and Plaintiff asked the jury for a total of $4 million.
Before trial Plaintiff claimed even greater special damages. She had submitted an affidavit from her treating neurosurgeon suggesting that Plaintiff may need up to four future surgeries, two in the cervical area and two in the lumbar area. Although it is difficult to limit a treating physician’s opinions, Perrier and Rome were able to successfully argue that the four-future surgery opinion did not satisfy the disclosure requirements of Federal Rule of Procedure 26.
Other favorable pre-trial rulings helped set the stage for a successful defense. One significant ruling permitted the admissibility of photographs from Plaintiff’s Facebook account as long as a witness testified that it was actually Plaintiff depicted in the photo. The ruling paved the way for introduction of pictures of Plaintiff on a tubing trip, attending festivals and concerts and shaking her head hard enough to blur a camera. All of which undermined the severity of the injuries alleged. The efforts paid off as the jury also found that Plaintiff’s injuries were not a result of the March 29, 2011 accident.
With respect to liability for the accident, Perrier and Rome were able to persuade the jury that Plaintiff was 100% at fault for the accident. Plaintiff testified was that she was stopped at a red light at the intersection for nearly a minute when the bus driven by Larry Westphal struck her car with the front right corner of the motor coach. Perrier and Rome were able to elicit testimony from other witnesses, including Plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert to the contrary. The accident was caused by Plaintiff when her car door hit the motor coach’s tire which was stationary but turned out in anticipation of turning when Plaintiff squeezed between the bus and the curb causing the turned wheel to make contact with Plaintiff’s door.