Lakesia Chandler v. Justin Washam, Ernest Heidelberger, and Wayne Webb

Annotate this Case









DECEMBER 15, 2004


[NO. CIV-1999-209]



Karen R. Baker, Judge

Appellant, Lakesia Chandler, appeals from the Phillips County Circuit Court's granting of appellees' motion for a directed verdict. Her sole argument on appeal is that the trial court erred in granting appellees' motion for a directed verdict. We disagree and affirm.

On May 6, 1999, Ms. Chandler was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Sherita Harris. The two were traveling west on Springdale Road, a thirty-five mile per hour zone, in Phillips County. Ahead of the vehicle in which Ms. Chandler was riding, appellee Justin Washam was also traveling west on Springdale Road. As Washam rounded a curve and entered a straight-a-way, he discovered a two-car automobile accident in his lane and stopped in the roadway. Appellee, Wayne Webb, traveling in the opposite direction, had already discovered the accident and had also stopped at the scene. A short time later, Ms. Harris rounded the curve, was unable to stop, and struck the rear of Washam's vehicle.

Ms. Chandler originally filed suit against both Harris and Washam alleging that Harris was traveling too fast for conditions, failed to maintain a proper look out, and failed to maintain proper control of her vehicle; and that Washam failed to keep a proper lookoutand stopped in the traveled portion of the roadway. Ms. Chandler later amended her original complaint adding the owner of the car driven by Washam, Ernest Heidelberger, as a defendant alleging that he was negligent in that he knew or should have known of the recklessness and/or inexperience of Justin Washam, yet he allowed Washam to operate Heidelberger's vehicle in spite of Washam's recklessness and/or inexperience; and that Washam negligently caused Chandler's injuries. Her complaint was later amended yet again to include appellee Webb alleging that he negligently stopped his vehicle upon a traveled part of the road. However, when the trial commenced, Chandler non-suited her cause of action against Harris.

At trial, Webb testified that he was traveling east on Springdale Road when he came upon an accident between Josh Hopper and Ms. Cannon. He pulled off the road, about halfway, onto "a little concrete part, like a driveway." He stated that the area he moved his vehicle onto was the only place to pull off the roadway. He was making a call to the police and trying to ascertain whether anyone was hurt. At that time, Washam came around the curve and onto the straight-a-way headed west. Washam, upon seeing the accident, pulled up behind Josh Hopper's vehicle, stopped safely, and remained in his vehicle. Washam testified that three or four cars were trying to make it through the narrow space between the Webb and Hopper vehicles. Washam waited for the traffic to clear so that he could go past Hopper's vehicle. Washam estimated that less than five minutes later, a Cadillac driven by Harris came "flying" around the curve. Harris was unable to stop the vehicle in time and hit Washam from the rear. The police arrived at the scene following the second accident between the Harris and Chandler vehicles.

Webb testified that Springdale Road is in a residential area and that he lives near the area where the accident occurred. He testified that he pulled off the roadway the best he could in order to call the police. Springdale Road has wooded areas on either side, with little to no shoulder. He stated that he, Hopper, and Washam all knew each other and "[he] just wanted to see if anybody was hurt or [if they] needed an ambulance." Webb testified that he left the scene after the police arrived.

At the close of Chandler's case, appellees Webb and Washam moved for a directed verdict. The motion stated that there was no evidence that appellees Webb and Washam negligently violated any duty of care. The trial court granted appellees' motion for a directed verdict. In the order dismissing the case, the trial judge found that Chandler failed to produce any evidence of negligence on the part of the defendants; thus, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice. This appeal followed.

In reviewing an order granting a motion for directed verdict, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the verdict was directed. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Voyles, 76 Ark. App. 334, 65 S.W.3d 457 (2002). A directed verdict for a defendant is proper only when there is no substantial evidence from which the jurors as reasonable individuals could find for the plaintiff. Jordan v. Jerry D. Sweetser, 64 Ark. App. 58, 977 S.W.2d 244 (1998) (citing Avery v. Ward, 326 Ark. 830, 934 S.W.2d 516 (1996)). Substantial evidence is that which is of sufficient force and character that it will compel a conclusion one way or the other, without resort to speculation or conjecture. Id. If any substantial evidence exists that tends to establish an issue in favor of that party, then a jury question is presented and the directed verdict should be reversed. Voyles, supra. With this standard in mind, we conclude that given the evidence presented in this case that the directed verdict was proper.

In her brief, Chandler asserts that fair-minded persons could easily reach a different conclusion from the trial court. She specifically asserts that Washam was negligent in that he did not keep a lookout for traffic coming from behind him; that he had no intention to move his vehicle out of the roadway; and that he had several minutes to take some form of action, but did not do so. In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Londagin, 344 Ark. 26, 36, 37 S.W.3d 620, 627 (2001), our supreme court stated:

We have defined negligence as:

the failure to do something which a reasonably careful person would do. A negligent act arises from a situation where an ordinarily prudent person in the same situation would foresee such an appreciable risk of harm to others that he would not act or at least would act in a more careful manner. While a party can establish negligence by direct or circumstantial evidence, he cannot rely upon inferences based on conjecture or speculation.

[City of Little Rock v.] Cameron, [320 Ark. 444, 897 S.W.2d 562, 627(1995)]

(internal citations omitted).

To establish a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant breached the standard of care, that damages were sustained, and that the defendant's actions were the proximate cause of those damages. Pollard v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 75 Ark. App. 75, 54 S.W.3d 559 (2001) (citing Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. Sharp, 330 Ark. 174, 952 S.W.2d 658 (1997)).

The testimony showed that when Washam came around the curve and onto the straight-away headed west, he saw Hopper stopped in the road and came safely to a stop behind him. Washam was unable to go around Hopper's vehicle because of the wooded areas on either side of Springfield Road. Washam remained in his vehicle and waited for three or four cars traveling east to proceed through the narrow space between the Webb and Hopper vehicles. Within minutes, Harris hit Washam from the rear. Clearly, the evidence in this case showed that Washam was properly stopped behind Hopper's vehicle because of the exigency of the situation. See generally Mack v. Wilkerson, 304 Ark. 114, 801 S.W.2d 26 (1990) (holding that truck driver who was parked behind other vehicles on highway waiting for traffic accident to clear was not required to place emergency warning devices behind his vehicle or to stop in manner which allowed free passage of other vehicles around his rig; neither of those requirements applied to circumstances, since truck driver was stopped due to exigencies of traffic and the stop was necessary one). Reviewing the testimony regarding the necessity of Washam's stop, we find that Ms. Chandler failed to present a prima facie case of negligence as to appellee Washam. Given our holding that Ms. Chander failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence against Washam as the driver of the vehicle, her claim against Heidelberger as the owner of the vehicle must fail as well. Therefore, the trial court correctly determined that there was insufficient evidence to submit the issue to the jury. Appellant also asserts that appellee Webb was negligent in that he persisted in advising that no one remove their vehicles from the roadway and that he parkedhis vehicle in such a position that Harris was unable to avoid hitting Washam. Applying the definition of negligence to the case against Webb, we hold that the trial court was likewise correct in concluding that the evidence was insufficient to submit the issue of negligence to the jury. No evidence was presented establishing that Webb failed to do something that a reasonably careful person would do. To the contrary, the testimony showed that Webb saw that an accident had occurred, stopped, and pulled off the roadway as best he could. He then made a call to the police and tried to determine if anyone was injured. He remained on the scene until the police arrived. As with Washam and Heidelberger, we find that Ms. Chandler failed to make a prima facie case of negligence against Webb. Thus, the trial court did not err in directing a verdict in favor of appellees.


Hart and Gladwin, JJ., agree.