Law School Case Brief
Broussard v. State, through Office of State Bldgs., Div. of Admin. - 113 So. 3d 175
Because the determination of whether a defective thing presents an unreasonable risk of harm encompasses an abundance of factual findings, which differ greatly from case to case, followed by an application of those facts to a less-than scientific standard, a reviewing court is in no better position to make the determination than the jury or trial court. Accordingly, the fact-finder's unreasonable risk of harm determination is subject to the manifest error standard of review and should be afforded deference on appeal. Under the manifest error standard of review, a court of appeal may not set aside a jury's finding of fact unless it is manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. The reviewing court must only decide whether the fact-finder's conclusion was reasonable, not whether it was right or wrong. In order to reverse a jury's factual finding as manifestly erroneous, an appellate court must find the record, when reviewed in its entirety: (1) contains no reasonable factual basis for the jury's finding, and; (2) establishes the finding is clearly wrong. The court of appeal must always be mindful that if the jury's findings are reasonable in light of the record reviewed in its entirety it may not reverse even though convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently.
Between 1999 and 2000, defendant State of Louisiana received multiple complaints from the tenants of a building the State owned regarding the building's malfunctioning elevators. Among other things, the elevators were misaligned, which often caused them to stop in a position uneven with floors of the building. In 2001, plaintiff Paul F. Broussard, who was employed as a delivery driver, severely injured his back while loading cargo onto one of the misaligned elevators. Broussard was familiar with the building and its elevators. Broussard, joined by his wife, plaintiff Andrea V. Broussard, individually and on behalf of his minor child, A.P.B., filed a lawsuit in Louisiana state court against the State, through the Office of State Buildings, under the Division of Administration. Seeking to recover damages he suffered as a result of the accident, Broussard alleged the State was negligent in failing to properly maintain and adequately repair a defective thing within its custody and care, thereby creating an unreasonable risk of harm. After a trial, the jury rendered a verdict for Broussard. The jury found Broussard 38 percent at fault in causing the accident and apportioned the remaining 62 percent to the State. Ultimately, the jury awarded Broussard $1,589,890.23 in damages. After reducing the damages in proportion to Broussard's assigned percentage of fault, the district court rendered a judgment consistent with the jury verdict in the amount of $985,732.56. On the State's appeal, the court of appeal reversed, holding that the jury's factual determination was manifestly erroneous because the elevator's defect was open and obvious. Broussard was granted a writ of certiorari.
Did the evidence support the jury's finding that the misaligned elevator's in the State's building created an unreasonable risk of harm?
The state supreme court rendered judgment reversing the appellate court's judgment and reinstating in its entirety the district court's judgment entered in conformity with the jury's verdict. The court ruled that viewing the record in its entirety under the manifest error doctrine, a reasonable basis existed to support the jury's factual determination that a one and one-half to three inch offset between the floor of the elevator and the floor of the building's lobby presented an unreasonable risk of harm. The court further ruled that a reasonable factual basis existed to support a finding that the elevator's defective condition was not an open and obvious hazard, as the defect was not readily apparent to all who encountered it. The State, therefore, breached its duty of care by failing to remedy the defect or warn of its existence until the defect could be remedied.
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