LAFAYETTE — An appeals court in Louisiana has rejected a trucking company’s request to be declared ‘less culpable’ in a fatal traffic accident that happened four years ago.
AAA Cooper Transportation filed an appeal in the in the State of Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal in March 2017. The company challenged a ruling made by the 15th Judicial District Court, Parish of Lafayette that said AAA Cooper was mostly to blame for the fatal accident.
AAA Cooper also contested the district court’s decision to have it pay 200 percent more than the initial damages awarded to the plaintiffs, who were family members of the sole victim of the April 2014 crash.
The appeals court said in its ruling that, on the day of the accident, AAA Cooper employee Arthur Huguley was operating an 18-wheel tractor-trailer rig on Interstate 10 in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, when he heard an explosion that he suspected was a tire blowout.
Huguley conducted what he described as a “wiggle maneuver," then used his rearview mirrors to ascertain whether a tire had blown. However, the court said the maneuver caused the blown tire to disintegrate and pieces of it to become airborne.
Curley Mouton, who was driving behind the tractor-trailer, subsequently lost control of his vehicle. Mouton's vehicle overturned and ended up in a ditch, and Mouton died.
Mouton’s wife and son filed lawsuits against Huguley, AAA Cooper and Ace American Insurance Co.
Following a trial, a jury determined that Huguley was 10 percent at fault for the accident, while AAA Cooper was 90 percent at fault. The plaintiffs were awarded more than $637,000, including a $50,000 award for general survival action damages.
However, the district court later increased the survival action damages amount to $150,000.
Appeals court Judge Sylvia Cooks said in her ruling that, at the time of the accident, the blown-out tire was already six-to-seven years old, and AAA Cooper retreaded the tire in question on three separate occasions instead of having it replaced.
In addition, Cooks said an expert accident reconstruction specialist testified that the trailer operator’s "wiggle maneuver" was unsafe, and the appropriate way to check to see if a tire is blown out is to pull over.
Since Huguley was driving for AAA Cooper at the time of the accident, the court agreed that AAA Cooper was more at fault.
Based on reports from the eye-witnesses and emergency personnel who responded at the scene of the accident, Cooks also said in her opinion that the lower court was right to increase the amount of survival damages because the crash victim was reportedly alive for about 35 minutes after the accident and was believed to be in “excruciating pain."