Bizarre Collision Creates Liability Questions

Authorities identified the victim in a fatal pedestrian-auto wreck which occurred in Bienville Parish, but legal responsibility remains uncertain.

The incident took place on U.S. Highway 371 south of State Highway 516. Investigators state that 27-year-old George Arkeem, of Minden, was northbound on 371 when he came upon an adult woman lying prostrate in the roadway. He was unable to avoid running over her and she died almost instantly. The victim, who apparently had no identification on her person, was later determined to be 51-year-old Theresa Williams, of Ringgold.

State police do not expect to bring charges at this time.

Contributory Negligence

Often, both the victim and the tortfeasor (negligent driver) are partially at fault in some pedestrian-auto wrecks. For example, the victim may cross against the light and outside the crosswalk and the tortfeasor may have been distracted. To properly apportion damages, jurors must divide fault on a percentage basis.

Louisiana and eight other states are the only jurisdictions that follow a pure comparative fault rule. In the Bayou State, damages are divided strictly according to fault. Some pundits, mostly from insurance companies, have criticized this rule, since technically, a victim could be 99 percent responsible for a pedestrian-auto wreck and still win money in court.

Assume the jury concludes that the victim’s damages were $10,000, and the tortfeasor and victim were both 50 percent responsible for the collision. Under these facts, a Louisiana plaintiff would be entitled to $5,000. But, if the trial took place in neighboring Texas, the victim would be entitled to nothing, because the Lone Star State has a 51 percent liability threshold.

Legal Issues

Typically, contributory negligence is a fact question for the jury to answer. But occasionally, it is a legal issue for the judge to decide, and the sudden emergency rule is a good example. This doctrine completely forgives a tortfeasor’s liability in some situation, making it a popular argument among insurance company lawyers.

There are two prongs to this defense in a pedestrian-auto wreck, and both of them are well-illustrated in this clip from Tommy Boy. The sudden hood fly-up is a sudden emergency in the legal sense of that phrase, because it is a completely unanticipated situation. The same thing arguably applies to a tire blow-out and a semi-conscious woman lying in the road in the middle of the night.

The insurance company often tries to expand the defense to include situations like pedestrians crossing against the light or stalled cars on the freeway. But these events are not unanticipated in pedestrian-auto wrecks and therefore not “sudden emergencies.”

Therefore, it’s so far, so good for Tommy Boy. But there is a second prong as well: The driver must act reasonably in the wake of the emergency. After an unexpected crisis, the reasonable thing to do is slow down and pull over to the right. But Tommy drove recklessly; he even crossed the center line and drove around in circles. If he had collided with another vehicle, the defense would probably not have applied.

Pedestrian-auto wrecks often create complicated legal questions. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. We’ll take care of your medical bills, so you can focus on getting better.