Road Injury Prevention Litigation Journal
Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.
May, 1999
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Louisiana Not Liable for Man Injured in Construction Area While Aiding Stuck Motorist
Originally published in the November 1990 TranSafety Reporter

(This legal summary of a case related to highway work zone safety is reproduced from the November 1990 (Volume VIII, No. 11) issue of the TranSafety Reporter, published and edited by Roy W. Anderson, P.E. To find technical articles from the Reporter on work zone topics, please check on-line editions of the "Road Management and Engineering Journal" at this web site.)

A Louisiana Court of Appeal recently reversed a trial court's judgment and found the State Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) not liable for serious injuries suffered by a man who was helping push a woman's automobile out of a construction site.

The background facts in this case are as follows. During February, 1985, Louisiana Highway 1 was under construction in accordance with a DOTD construction project that was being performed by Barber Brothers Contracting Company, Inc.

This particular project involved the reconstruction of an existing two-lane highway into a five-lane highway -- four travel lanes and a turn lane. This work required the excavation of the areas on each side of the existing two-lane highway, so that new, outside lanes could be constructed. The project also required that after the outside lanes were completed, the inside lanes (the original highway) were to be excavated and reconstructed.

At the beginning of this project, a portion of the two-lane highway was cut, leaving a total of 24 feet of travel lanes during construction. The area surrounding the reconstruction project was mostly commercial and residential properties. The Barber Company was required to construct temporary ramps over the excavated area to afford Highway 1 travelers adequate entrance or exit from the properties. The ramps Barber constructed were perpendicular to Highway 1.

After the highway was cut and before the outside lanes were fully constructed, pieces of broken concrete and asphalt remained in the excavated area near the inner, travel lanes.

On February 15, 1985, Lealia Ennis was using one of the temporary ramps to leave a shopping center parking lot. While she was preparing to make a right turn onto Highway 1 the right rear wheel of her car fell off the ramp into the excavated area.

Traffic was blocked and police officers arrived shortly after to direct traffic. Ennis was not able to extricate her car from the excavated area. After nearly twenty minutes, Lawrence Joseph and two other men who saw Ennis's car fall off the ramp edge, volunteered to help push the car out of the excavated area. Joseph positioned himself near the right rear bumper. Joseph and his helpers succeeded in pushing the car out of the excavation, but a piece of concrete was flung backward by the spinning tire and Joseph suffered a serious injury to his knee.

Joseph brought a suit against the DOTD alleging that the ramp was defective and that the defect in the ramp caused his injuries. The trial court agreed and found that the DOTD and Barber were 100 percent responsible for Joseph's injuries and awarded him $279,326.02 for past and future medical expenses, general damages, and future loss of wages. The DOTD appealed and argued that it was not responsible for Joseph's injuries.

The Court of Appeal found that Joseph's injuries did not fall within the responsibility of the protection afforded injured parties under the DOTD's duty to maintain the State's highways and shoulders in a reasonably safe condition. The scope of that duty, according to the Court of Appeal, "simply does not encompass the remote risk that a person not traveling on the highway might be injured in trying to free a vehicle which has partially fallen off the edge of a roadway."

Thus, the trial court's judgment was reversed and Joseph's suit was dismissed. Lawrence Joseph was assessed all trial and appeal costs.

[Joseph v. Ennis CA 89 0251 (560 So.2d 894 La.App. 1 Cir. 1990).] Patrick W. Pendley and Allen J. Myles of Plaquemine (504-687-6396) represented Lawrence Joseph. The state's case was argued by Randall Cashio of Baton Rouge (504-387-0921).

Copyright © 1999 by TranSafety, Inc.

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