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Law School Case Brief

Cole v. Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corr. - 825 So. 2d 1134

Rule:

An appellate court may not set aside a trial court's finding of fact in the absence of manifest error or unless it is clearly wrong, and where two permissible views of the evidence exist, the fact finder's choice between them cannot be manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong. There is a two part test for the reversal of a fact finder's determinations: (1) The appellate court must find from the record that a reasonable factual basis does not exist for the finding of the trial court, and; (2) the appellate court must further determine that the record establishes that the finding is clearly wrong (manifestly erroneous). This test dictates that a reviewing court must do more than simply review the record for some evidence which supports or controverts the trial court's finding. The reviewing court must review the record in its entirety to determine whether the trial court's finding was clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous. Nevertheless, the issue to be resolved by a reviewing court is not whether the trier of fact was right or wrong, but whether the factfinder's conclusion was a reasonable one. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Bradley Cole was a correctional officer employed by defendant State of Louisiana, Department of Public Safety and Corrections ("Department"). Cole was a member of a tactical unit that was trained to take charge of any situation involving inmate riots. Cole was injured during a training exercise when other officers beat him with batons. Cole, individually and on behalf of his minor daughter, L.A.C, filed a lawsuit against the Department in Louisiana state court alleging that he was intentionally battered by other officers during the training exercises and was therefore entitled to damages in tort for his personal injuries. Cole's wife, plaintiff Denise Cole, joined the action and asserted a claim for loss of consortium. After a bench trial, the trial court rendered judgment for Cole and awarded him $ 675,000 in general damages, $ 157,000 in future medical damages, and $ 914,390 in lost wages, subject to credit for workers' compensation payments. The trial court also awarded damages for loss of consortium to Cole's wife and daughter, $ 75,000 and $ 35,000, respectively. The court of appeal affirmed the judgment, finding no manifest error. The State was granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Was Cole entitled to damages?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court's judgment and remanded the matter. The court agreed that the injuries sustained by Cole were suffered as a result of the intentional acts of the State's employees. Although the officers who struck Cole might not have acted with malice, the striking with the batons was an intentional act that was a harmful contact. Because the evidence supported the finding that Cole was intentionally battered, and there was no consent by Cole to such battery, La. Rev. Stat. § 23:1032(B) (1976) applied and provided an exception to the exclusivity of workers' compensation remedies to Cole. Regarding Cole's injuries, the court found no evidence to support the finding that he sustained a closed head injury as a result of the battery. While some physicians diagnosed Cole with a brain injury, the record was void of any medical evidence to support the finding. The court reversed that part of the judgment and remanded for a reassessment of damages. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects.

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