Garage sale gaffe: No bargain for browser
On June 17, 2013, Charmane Manchester filed suit for damages against Michael Watson, Heather Dawn Van Watson, and ANPAC Louisiana Insurance Company, the Watsons’ homeowners insurer. In her petition, Manchester contended that on July 7, 2012, she was at a garage sale on premises owned by the Watsons when, suddenly and without warning, a wooden post supporting the carport fell and struck her, causing her injuries. Manchester further averred that her damages were caused by the fault of the Watsons in, among other things, maintaining an unreasonably dangerous condition, failing to warn their guests and patrons of the dangerous condition, failing to properly inspect the wooden posts attached to the carport, having the wooden posts of the carport displayed in an area where pedestrian traffic was reasonably anticipated, and choosing to conduct a garage sale and inviting persons to buy goods in an area where it was not safe to do so.
After a trial on November 30 and December 1, 2016, the jury found, in accordance with the parties’ stipulation, that the Watsons were the owners and custodians of the post at issue. In response to the question of whether the jury found “by a preponderance of the evidence that the post at issue was defective and created an unreasonable risk of harm to the plaintiff at the time of the accident,” the jury answered “no.” At that point the verdict form was returned to the district court. On March 21, 2017, the court signed a judgment that outlined the findings of the jury. After the subsequent denial of Manchester’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, Manchester appealed the March 21, 2017, judgment.
Upon review of that judgment, the appellate court determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the judgment lacked sufficient decretal language (language that officially states what the court is ordering). Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed. Thereafter a new judgment was presented to the district court and executed on July 2, 2018. Manchester appealed.
On appeal, the court noted that Manchester’s expert gave conflicting testimony about the condition of the post, initially categorizing the post as a complete failure but then clarifying that he could not say that the post would fall on its own in the condition it was in.
The court stated that the remainder of the testimony and evidence completely called into question whether Manchester was even hit by the post. The court found that with such a fact-intensive trial and issue, it was not unreasonable for the jury to make its credibility determinations regarding the witnesses’ testimony and to find that Manchester did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the post at issue was defective and created an unreasonable risk of harm to her at the time of the incident. Accordingly, the court said, the jury’s verdict was not manifestly erroneous and must be affirmed.
The court affirmed the judgment of the district court rendered in favor of the Watsons and ANPAC Louisiana Insurance Company and against Manchester.
Manchester v. ANPAC Louisiana Insurance Company—Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit—May 31, 2019—No. 2018 CA 1379.