Court Orders ‘Immature And Stupid” Drivers To Pay $5.5 Million

An East Baton Rouge court closed the book on a 2013 serious injury collision that killed five people.

Citing their “immaturity and stupidity,” District Judge William Morvant ordered 34-year-old David Leger and 27-year-old Kelsye Hall to pay $5.5 million to the families of the five victims. According to evidence presented at trial, Mr. Leger and Ms. Hall played a high-speed game of “cat and mouse” after a road rage incident. Mr. Leger, whose BAC was well above the legal limit, lost control of his pickup truck. The vehicle shot across Interstate 10’s grassy median and smashed into Effie Fontenot’s car. The ensuing fireball killed all five people in the car.

Mr. Leger is still serving and eight-year sentence for vehicular homicide; a court sentenced Ms. Hall to one year, and she has been released.

Operational and Behavioral Negligence

The distinction is nowhere in the law, but there are basically two kinds of negligence in serious injury collision cases, and the type of misconduct affects the amount of evidence the victim must produce in court and the amount of damages that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) may have to pay.

Speeding, making an unsafe lane change, and rolling through a stop sign are some examples of operational negligence, because very few people plan to speed or ignore a stop sign. So, in these kinds of cases, victims must nearly always pursue standard negligence cases, and provide compelling evidence that the tortfeasor violated the duty of reasonable care. Juries rarely award punitive damages in these cases, because we have all made a rolling right turn on red at one time or another, and no one likes to look in the mirror.

Impaired driving, whether because of alcohol, drugs, or distraction, is behavioral negligence; road rage and hit-and-run fall into this category as well. Well before the serious injury collision, the tortfeasor decides to drink or use a cellphone, regardless of the consequences to someone else. The negligence per se (negligence “as such”) rule often applies in these cases. If the tortfeasor violated a safety statute, such as the DUI or cellphone law, and that violation caused damages, the tortfeasor is liable for damages as a matter of law, unless the tortfeasor has a valid excuse for the misconduct. In addition to the evidentiary shortcut, some jurors are more apt to award punitive damages in these cases as well, in order to punish the tortfeasor.

Divided Responsibility

Many serious injury collisions involve multiple tortfeasors. Louisiana is a modified joint and several liability state, which means that in most cases, the tortfeasors are liable according to their percentage of fault. If the victim’s damages were $100,000 and two tortfeasors were 50-50 at fault, each must pay $50,000. Different rules apply regarding intentional torts, and in a few other situations.

If the victim and tortfeasor shared fault for the serious injury collision (e.g. the victim was speeding and the tortfeasor was intoxicated), the divided responsibility rules are about the same, because Louisiana is a pure comparative fault state. If the damages were $100,000 and the tortfeasor and victim split fault 50-50, the victim would receive $50,000, since the Bayou State apportions damages strictly on the basis of fault.

In negligence cases, the facts affect the applicable law. For a free consultation with T-Claude Devall or another experienced personal injury attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. We normally do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.