This is a suit for personal injuries allegedly sustained by the plaintiff as a result of a barroom brawl. Plaintiff, Dudley Campbell, alleges that he was negligently, recklessly, and wantonly cut and stabbed while at the Starmist Lounge by defendant, Pete Reaux, an employee of the lounge. Plaintiff also made the owner of the lounge, Edmond Mouton, a defendant based upon the assertion that Reaux was acting within the course and scope of his employment when he injured the plaintiff. Trial of this case was begun before a jury. At the close of plaintiff's case, the trial judge granted the defendants' motion for a directed verdict and dismissed the case. From this dismissal, plaintiff perfected the present appeal. The issues posed on appeal are:
The motion for directed verdict is a common law procedural device which has only recently found its way into the law of Louisiana through Article 1810 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The purpose of the directed verdict is that "it serves judicial efficiency by allowing the judge to conclude the litigation (in a jury trial) if the facts and inferences are so overwhelmingly in favor of the moving party that the court believes that reasonable men could not arrive at a contrary verdict." Civil Procedure—Work of Louisiana Legislature for 1977 Regular Session, 38 La.L.Rev. 152, 157 (1977); See also Williams v. Slade, 431 F.2d 605 (5th Cir. 1970).
In granting defendants' motion for a directed verdict in this case, the trial judge gave oral reasons, which read in part as follows:
Plaintiff asserts that the trial court erred in applying a standard of "a preponderance of the evidence" in deciding defendants' motion for a directed verdict. Article 1810, itself, establishes no standard to be used in determining a party's right to a directed verdict. Plaintiff argues that the correct standard in ruling upon such a motion is the same as the one applied in Federal Courts, since Louisiana adopted verbatim Section 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as our Article 1810A. See: Civil Procedure—Work of the Louisiana legislature for 1977 Regular Session, supra, at p. 157.
We conclude that the plaintiff is correct in his contention that the trial court applied an incorrect standard in granting the defendants' motion. Moreover, since the source of LSA-C.C.P. article 1810A is the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, we believe that the correct standard is that applied in the Federal Courts. See Madison v. Travelers Insurance Company, 308 So.2d 784 (La.1975). This standard is succinctly stated in the following language penned by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Boeing Co. v. Shipman, 411 F.2d 365 (5th Cir. 1969):
SUFFICIENCY OF PLAINTIFF'S EVIDENCE
Having adopted the above quoted federal standard as our own, we must now consider whether the result reached by the trial judge was correct notwithstanding his failure to apply the correct test. This court is in a position to make such a determination because we have a complete record of the plaintiff's evidence before us and because evaluations of credibility have no
After a thorough review of the plaintiff's evidence conducted in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and drawing all reasonable inferences most favorable to him, we conclude that the defendants' motion for a directed verdict should be denied. We are of the opinion that the facts and inferences do not point so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of the defendants that reasonable and fair-minded men could not arrive at a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
The record in this case, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, reflects the following. The incident which gave rise to this suit occurred on the night of February 26, 1977, at the Starmist Lounge, which is owned by defendant Edmond Mouton. On that night, plaintiff was present at the lounge with a friend, Nolan Becker, for the purpose of imbibing alcoholic beverages. Peter Reaux, a defendant herein, was working as a bartender at the lounge on the night in question.
While plaintiff was at the lounge, a fight erupted between two persons who are not parties to this lawsuit. Plaintiff was standing in close proximity to the fight and keeping a vigil over the happenings. As part of his job, Reaux came out from behind the bar to attempt to break up the fight. In the process of pulling the participants apart, Reaux bumped into or elbowed the plaintiff. As a result of this contact, Reaux and the plaintiff exchanged punches. This fight lasted a very short period of time before it was broken up by a bystander. After it was broken up, Reaux returned to his place behind the bar and plaintiff resumed his drinking.
Shortly thereafter, the defendant made a motion for the plaintiff to accompany him outside. Once outside, Reaux and the plaintiff again engaged in a fight. This fight was broken up by the Abbeville police, who had been called for the purpose of silencing the initial disturbance inside of the lounge. At this time, the police brought the plaintiff to the police station for questioning. It was while the plaintiff was at the police station—approximately 45 minutes after the last altercation—that he first realized that he had been stabbed. The testimony of Dr. Harold Crackower, who examined the plaintiff on February 28th, established that plaintiff had at some time received lacerations to his back and left arm as well as a puncture wound near his left elbow.
The trial judge in dismissing plaintiff's case obviously believed that the plaintiff had failed to prove that it was the defendant, Peter Reaux, who had inflicted the apparent knife wounds to the plaintiff. From his oral reasons, it can be ascertained that the factors influencing this decision by the trial judge were that: (1) the plaintiff had failed to realize that he was cut until approximately 45 minutes after the fight had ceased; (2) the plaintiff was unable to say who or what had cut him; and (3) the witnesses called by plaintiff gave widely varying testimony.
While all of the above considerations of the trial judge are supported by the record, we are of the opinion that there is evidence which, when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, could be sufficient to convince a reasonable and fair-minded man to return a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
While it is true that neither the plaintiff nor any other witness was able to state that the defendant, Peter Reaux, did in fact stab him, there is overwhelming evidence that Reaux did have a knife in his possession on the night in question. This evidence includes the testimony by the plaintiff and two witnesses to the fights, Dudley Guidry and Riley Trahan, that they saw Reaux holding a knife immediately after the first fight between Reaux and the plaintiff had ceased. However, the evidence which perhaps most strongly supports the hypothesis that Reaux stabbed the plaintiff is the following testimony of Donald Miller, one of the police officers who investigated the incident, to wit:
Hence, there is substantial evidence upon which the jury could base a finding that Peter Reaux did in fact stab the plaintiff.
The trial judge's other two apparent reasons for granting defendants' motion, i. e. the testimony of the plaintiff that he did not realize that he had been cut until 45 minutes after the fight and the contradictory testimony of plaintiff's witnesses, in actuality address themselves more to the weight to be given such testimony. However, it must be noted that Dr. Crackower did testify that it is not an unusual occurrence for a person to be cut and not to realize it until some time after the incident. Hence, while on first impression plaintiff's testimony that he did not immediately realize he had been cut might appear questionable, it could well be explained by the testimony of Dr. Crackower. With reference to the contradictory nature of the testimony, the jury could well choose to believe that this resulted from the stressful nature of the incident and the celerity in which it occurred. In any event, credibility evaluations are within the province of the jury and should never form the basis for directing a verdict.