Perrier & Lacoste Trial Victory in New Orleans – August 2018
The P&L trial attorney team of Guy Perrier and Nathan Gaudet scored another victory for a national trucking company, its insurer and driver. The plaintiff, who brought suit individually and on behalf of her three year old son, was the executive director of a non-profit company in the business of providing meals to under-privileged school children in her rural community. She alleged the defendant driver backed into her vehicle, causing her to undergo a two-level cervical fusion. She was still treating at the time of trial, two and one-half years later. In addition to her general damages and past medical damages, she demanded millions of dollars in lost past and future wages and a lifetime of future medical treatment.
Prior to trial, P&L secured several wins through motion practice and oral argument. Most importantly, the defense defeated the plaintiff’s motion to remand the case to state court, the plaintiff’s preferred venue. The defense successfully persuaded the Court to allow as evidence a letter sent by the plaintiff’s counsel to the insurer involved in a later accident in which she appeared to blame some of her damages on the later accident. The defense persuaded the Court to exclude an admission of liability found in an email from its insurer to the plaintiff’s counsel as well as the criminal and employment-related discipline history of its driver, which included multiple felonies within the past ten years. The Court, on motion for partial summary judgment of the defense, dismissed all claims of direct negligence against the trucking company.
With the full support of all three P&L clients, the defense presented a united front and collaborative effort during the week long jury trial. At trial, the plaintiff demanded over $3,500,000. She presented a lifecare plan detailing nearly $2,000,000 in future medical costs and over $1,000,000 in future wage loss. The defense, however, carefully attacked the plaintiff’s credibility and elicited considerate damaging testimony, including an admission the plaintiff filed fraudulent tax returns.
The jury found the plaintiff 50% at fault, and after a reduction for her fault, the plaintiff was awarded $8,500 in general damages and $117,500 in past medical specials. The jury made no award for wage loss or future medical specials, despite the plaintiff presenting testimony from a pain management doctor, orthopedic surgeon, economist and vocational rehabilitation counselor in support of those demands. The jury awarded no damages to the minor child.
Following trial, the plaintiff filed a Motion for New Trial, arguing general damages of $8,500 for a cervical fusion is “inconceivably low” based upon cases involving similar accidents. She also claimed she possessed “newly-discovered” evidence in the form of a second police officer. She produced the officer’s affidavit, which stated the defendant driver admitted he backed into the plaintiff. The Court agreed with the defense, holding the jury was entitled to rely on the evidence presented by and argument of the defense in awarding $8,500 in general damages even though the plaintiff had a major spine surgery. In denying the Motion for New Trial, the Court ruled the police officer’s statement was not newly-discovered evidence because the plaintiff, in the exercise of due diligence, should have identified it prior to trial.
Following denial of the Motion for New Trial, the plaintiff appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, arguing the denial of the Motion for New Trial was erroneous because general damages verdict was inadequate. The plaintiff also argued the trial court improperly excluded the “newly-discovered” second police officer, failed to find the jury had reached a “compromise verdict” and committed various other errors in evidentiary rulings. Following oral argument, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision of the trial court in all respects, including the general damages award of $8,500 for the plaintiff’s cervical fusion.