Steven Guillory and Holiday Guillory v. Christopher Saucier,
Albert K. Newlin, Inc., and Republic Underwriters Insurance Company
Michael R. Sistrunk and Matthew J. Garver obtained a favorable jury verdict for Albert K. Newlin, Inc. and Republic Underwriters Insurance Company following a six day jury trial in the 14th Judicial District Court for Calcasieu Parish. An employee of Albert K. Newlin, Inc., Christopher Saucier, caused a serious automobile accident while operating an Albert K. Newlin, Inc. owned vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Steven Guillory sustained injury to his low back and underwent a series of epidural steroid injections and, ultimately, a radio frequency ablation procedure. Mr. Guillory amassed over $68,000.00 in past medical bills and claimed to be symptomatic at the time of trial. Mr. Guillory was employed at a local chemical and polymer plant and earned approximately $100,000.00 per year with extensive overtime. Immediately following the accident, Mr. Guillory was unable to work for approximately 2 months and, as a result, Mr. Guillory asserted a past lost wage claim of $11,910.00. Additionally, Mr. Guillory’s treating physician recommended a lifting restriction and assigned an anatomical disability to his low back that was alleged to be incompatible with his job requirements. Consequently, Mr. Guillory also asserted a future loss of earning capacity claim. The plaintiffs presented expert testimony regarding alternative careers and an economist estimated his loss of future earning capacity at over $1,000,000.00. Mr. Saucier’s blood alcohol level after the accident was .171. As such, the plaintiffs also sought punitive damages from Republic Underwriters Insurance Company for the alleged willful and wanton conduct of Christopher Saucier.
Prior to the commencement of trial, Michael R. Sistrunk was successful in obtaining a dismissal of Albert K. Newlin, Inc., as there was no evidence that Mr. Saucier was in the course and scope of his job with Albert K. Newlin, Inc. at the time of the accident. Republic Underwriters Insurance Company remained a defendant through trial, as Mr. Saucier was a permissive user of the Albert K. Newlin, Inc. automobile at the time of the accident. In pre-trial motions, a prior 1993 driving while intoxicated conviction was successfully excluded over plaintiffs’ arguments that this prior conviction could be used for purposes of proving willful and wanton conduct. Despite the Court’s ruling excluding this evidence, plaintiffs’ counsel made a veiled reference to the prior DWI during the examination of Mr. Saucier to the extent that the Judge actually granted a mistrial after the defenses’ motion for same. In a bid to keep the trial going, the parties came to a compromise relative to the grant of a mistrial and the trial was salvaged with the jury venire preserved. After five days of exhaustive testimony by witnesses for the plaintiff, the defense presented the testimony of a vocational rehabilitation counselor that testified that the Mr. Guillory was capable to continuing his current employment, or in the alternative, that he had the skills to seek alternative employment of a similar kind, such that he would experience little to no loss of earning capacity.
In closing arguments, counsel for the plaintiffs suggested to the jury that they award Mr. and Mrs. Guillory $11,910.00 in past lost wages, $850,000.00 in future loss of earning capacity, $68,141.25 in past medical expenses, $300,000.00 in general damages, a reasonable sum for Mrs. Guillory for loss of consortium, and a multiple of the general damages as a measure of punitive damages. In closing, the defense acknowledged its responsibility for the accident and agreed that Mr. Guillory should be awarded his past lost wages of $11,910.00. However, Michael R. Sistrunk argued that plaintiff should be awarded zero damages for loss of future earning capacity, only a portion of past medical expenses as some of the procedures were suspect and unnecessary, and $50,000.00 in general damages. Defendants also argued that Mrs. Guillory should receive no award for loss of consortium.
Both before and during the trial, plaintiffs’ lowest settlement demand was $750,000.00. The jury deliberated for less than three hours and returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Guillory for a total of $110,051.25, which was comprised of $11,910.00 in past lost wages, $68,141.25 in past medical expenses, and $30,000.00 in general damages. The jury returned a verdict of zero with regard to Mr. Guillory’s claim for a loss of future earning capacity and a zero verdict relative to Mrs. Guillory’s claim for loss of consortium. The jury also found that, while Mr. Christopher Saucier’s intoxication was a cause in fact of the injuries sustained by Mr. Guillory, Mr. Saucier did not act with wanton or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others. As a result, the jury did not award punitive damages. In sum, the jury returned a cumulative verdict that was less than the suggested verdict set forth by defense counsel in closing.