Louisiana Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

Appeals court reverses decision favoring Louisiana DOTD

By Tomas Kassahun | Apr 29, 2018

SHREVEPORT — In a ruling made on April 11, the Lousiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the district court’s decision to dismiss claims against the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

The appeals court said there was enough evidence to prove that the DOTD can be held responsible for a dangerous intersection that caused an accident on Dec. 12, 2012.

The plaintiff Robert Murphy was involved in the accident while driving his motorcycle south on a two-lane stretch of Louisiana Highway 538 in Shreveport known as Old Mooringsport Road, according to the opinion.

At the same time, Shauntal Savannah was driving her Nissan Maxima in the opposite direction on that same stretch of Old Mooringsport Road, the appeals court said.

Their vehicles collided at the intersection of Old Mooringsport Road and Ravendale Drive when Savannah turned left in front of Murphy, according to the appeals court.

The intersection where the accident happened is known as a Y-type intersection, the opinion stated.

Murphy and his wife Pamela sued Savannah and her insurer State Farm, as well as the State of Louisiana through the Department of Transportation and Development, the judge wrote.

“The Murphys alleged that DOTD was at fault because of its failure to warn motorists of a dangerous condition and failure to remedy the defective design of the intersection that created an unreasonably dangerous condition of which DOTD had actual and constructive notice,” judge Michael A. Pitman wrote. 

The Murphys dismissed their claims against Savannah and State Farm following a settlement, according to the appeals court.

The DOTD, however, filed a motion for summary judgment, saying the accident was caused only by negligence and that the Murphys could not present any evidence of DOTD’s negligence or liability, the opinion said.

“Attached to the motion for summary judgment were an affidavit from a DOTD civil engineer, an affidavit from an expert engineer and excerpts from the deposition transcripts of the two drivers,” the judge wrote.

According to the appeals court, civil engineer Kevin Blunck said there were no records of any complaints made to DOTD within 180 days before the accident regarding any alleged deficiencies or defects with respect to the section of Highway 538 located at or near the intersection. 

Civil Engineer Joseph Blaschke said the traffic control devices in place at the time of the accident on Highway 538 at the intersection were in compliance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the highway was not unreasonably dangerous, the opinion stated.

The plaintiffs, arguing in opposition to the motion for summary judgment,  provided an affidavit from traffic operations engineer V.O. Tekell, the appeals court said.

Tekell said the 1940 American Association of State Highway Official publication recommends that intersecting roads meet at right angles for both safety and economy.

DOTD said Tekell’s documents “were not properly authenticated and did not fall within the category of documents authorized under the Code of Civil Procedure to be filed in support of or in opposition to the motion for summary judgment.”

The Murphys appealed the trial court’s ruling, which said the claims were dismissed because Tekell never gave an opinion that the intersection was unreasonably dangerous.

The appeals court said Tekell didn’t have to clearly state that the intersection was unreasonably dangerous. 

Based on Tekell’s testimony, the appeals court said Tekell had given enough facts for a reasonable person to conclude that the intersection is dangerous. 

“After considering these statements in Tekell’s affidavit, a fact finder could reasonably draw the inference that the intersection was unreasonably dangerous,” the appeals court said.

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Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal