An Orleans Parish jury recently awarded plaintiffs $85,000,000 in a multiple death and multiple burn case and absolved plaintiffs of any fault in driving a disabled car at 5 m.p.h. in traffic on I-10.
Near midnight on Christmas Eve, a woman and her daughter had a flat tire on I-10 near Laplace, Louisiana. They drove into a state weigh station and called AAA and some friends to help her with her flat tire. The driver of the car canceled AAA road service (even though they were 5 minutes away), and had two friends with 2 children meet her in the weigh station to try to fix her flat tire. The friends did not have the right equipment or spare tire to fix the flat. The group decided to drive the disabled car on the paved, unobstructed shoulder of the interstate to the nearest exit about a mile away.
While driving on the shoulder, plaintiffs decided to drive in the right lane of traffic on I-10. The defendant 18-wheeler travelling at the speed limit came upon plaintiffs’ 5-m.p.h. “convoy,” could not stop and slammed into the rear of the two plaintiff vehicles.
The defendants argued that the plaintiff drivers were at least 50% at fault in causing the collision by driving at 5 m.p.h. in the right lane of traffic, even though the shoulder was paved and unobstructed. Based on Louisiana’s comparative fault principles, such an assessment of fault would have resulted in a 50% reduction of any recovery by the plaintiffs. The jury found zero comparative fault of the plaintiff drivers.
Damage awards for two severely burned plaintiffs were extraordinary:
• A severely burned adult was awarded $37,000,000;
• A child who was severely burned was awarded $44,000,000.
In Louisiana, a damage award may generally not be overturned on appeal, unless the amount of the awards “shock the conscience” , and the damage awards in the case may well meet the high standard of proof.