Fault Uncertain In Fatal Vehicle Collision

Both sides may end up pointing fingers in court after a deadly rear-end car crash on U.S. Highway 425.

According to Louisiana State Police, a 16-year-old unlicensed driver, whose name was not released, inexplicably slowed near the intersection of Highway 425 and Campbell Road. A trailing 2008 Chevrolet Avalanche, driven by 22-year-old Jeremy Austin, of Gilbert, rear-ended the near stationary Ford F-150. The force of the collision pushed the F-150 across the median and onto its roof. A passenger in that vehicle, 74-year-old Robert Miller, of Winnsboro, was seriously injured in the crash and rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was subsequently declared dead.

Thus far in 2016, this section of the LSP has investigated fifteen fatal crashes that caused sixteen deaths.

Negligence Per Se

Normally, negligence is a fact question that involves a breach of the duty of reasonable care. But in some situations, negligence is a matter of law, and negligence per se (negligence “as such”) is one of these instances.

Instead of proving that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated the duty of reasonable care, and this breach caused injury, the plaintiff in a negligence per se case must only show that the:

  • Law was created to prevent a certain harm, and
  • Plaintiff is among the people that the law is designed to protect.

This shortcut is not always available, but when it is, it makes the plaintiff’s job much easier, because there is no need to establish the traditional elements of duty, breach, cause-in-fact, legal causation, and damages.

In other situations, negligence per se can establish liability where none existed before. In the above story, it appears that the 16-year-old may not have been driving carelessly. But LA Rev Stat § 32:402 states that every driver must have a license, and an argument could be made that this law exists to protect people from crashes caused by unlicensed drivers.

Contributory Negligence

It is very common for both drivers to share some responsibility in car crash cases. For example, Patty Plaintiff may have made an illegal lane change and collided with Debbie Defendant, who was speeding. In these instances, the jury must apportion fault on a percentage basis.

Louisiana is a pure comparative fault state that divides damages based solely on fault. Assume that, in the above example, the jury determines that the damages were $100,000, Patty was 60 percent at fault and Debbie was 40 percent responsible. In Louisiana, Patty would receive $40,000. But in most other states, Patty would receive nothing because Debbie was less than 50 percent responsible. The theory is that if the plaintiff was mostly responsible, the plaintiff is not entitled to any damages.

Car crash cases often present complex legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. Our attorneys handle cases in both Louisiana and Texas.