Courts Find Car Driver Negligent but Not Legal Cause of Bicycle Accident in Metairie

On May 29, 2019, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal  in Gretna upheld a jury’s verdict clearing a car driver of liability in a collision with a bicycle at the intersection of Airline Drive and Shrewsbury Road in Metairie. The defendant-driver was attempting to take a right turn towards the entrance ramp of the Causeway circle when the bicyclist attempted to cross the street in front of him.

The investigating trooper testified that the bicyclist was riding against the flow of traffic, and if he had been paying more attention, he could have prevented the collision. The main witness to the case testified that the driver was turning very slowly compared to the immense speed of the bicyclist. However, the car driver testified to only looking in the direction of the oncoming traffic to his left as he did not expect anyone to appear on his right side. When he finally noticed the bicyclist, he braked his vehicle, but he could not avoid the collision. The bicyclist testified to waiting at the intersection, where was certain that the vehicle driver did not notice him and proceeded to “run” in front of the car after waiting for ten to fifteen seconds. The final testimony came from an expert in traffic engineering and accident reconstruction. He testified that drivers have a responsibility to look in all direction before turning, but bicyclists also have the duty to ride with the flow of traffic. Ultimately, the jury found the driver’s failure to look to the right side of his vehicle was negligent, but they did not find him to be the legal cause of the accident i.e. the accident was not a foreseeable consequence of his negligence and did not flow necessarily from his failure to look right.

The plaintiff-bicyclist filed an appeal alleging that the verdict was contrary to law and evidence. According to La. C.C.P. arts. 1971, 1972, and 1973, a new trial may be granted when the jury verdict, though free from legal error, does not do substantial justice or is against the manifest weight and probative effect of the evidence. However, according to Yokum v. Funky 544 Rhythm and Blues Cafe, 16-1142 (La. App. 4 Cir. 5/23/18), 248 So.3d 723, a jury verdict cannot be set aside for a new trial if the verdict, although contrary, is still supportable by a fair interpretation of the evidence. As long as the conclusion is reasonable and not clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous, courts of appeal have tended to hold that a jury’s finding may not be set aside. Even if the appellate court did find their own evaluation to be more reasonable than the factfinder’s, reasonable inferences of fact should not be disturbed upon review where conflict exists in the testimony like the case above. Philips v. Berner, 00-0103 (La. App. 4 Cir. 5/16/01), 789 So.2d 41, 44-45, writ denied, 01-1767 (La. 9/28/01), 798 So.2d 119. The ruling finding the car driver negligent but not a legal cause of the accident was affirmed. The case is Murray v. Windman, Docket No. 18-CA-530 in the court of appeal.