Legal Matters

Rayne native paralyzed by 18-wheeler awarded $30M

Lafayette Parish jury finds R+L Carriers solely responsible for man’s injuries, awarding what may be the highest verdict in parish history.

On Oct. 26, a Lafayette Parish jury awarded $30 million to Rayne native Ronald Stutes, who was paralyzed in 2013 when an R+L Carriers 18-wheeler failed to yield at a stop sign causing a crash.

In January 2013, R+L Carriers employee Gerald Pitre was operating the big rig, which was loaded with hazardous cargo, when he failed to yield from a stop sign and red flashing light at the intersection of Austria Road and U.S. 90 (Cameron Street) near Duson, according to a press release from Stutes’ attorneys. Stutes, a master carpenter, was on his way to work in his pickup truck at 5:30 a.m. when the 18-wheeler pulled directly into his path.

Stutes’ attorneys say that R+L Carriers hired experts from Los Angeles to Alabama to blame Stutes, who had the right of way, for failing to slow his pick-up truck in heavy fog with a yellow flashing light on U.S. 90. The jury rejected the R+L Carriers allegations of speed and placed all fault on the R+L Carriers, an Ohio based company with more than 13,000 tractors and trailers.

The crash injured Stutes’ spine at the T-5 level, rendering him paraplegic from the chest down with limited use of his arms and has made him dependent upon a colostomy bag and catheter. He also suffered a broken neck, 19 fractured ribs, concussion, traumatic brain injury, broken right shoulder and broken clavicle, among other injuries. His condition has resulted in $9 million in past and future medical expenses. His doctors describe him as a functional quadriplegic who requires 24-hour care.

Stutes was represented by Blake R. David and Robert Brahan of the law firm Broussard & David and Marshall Montgomery of the Law Office of J. Marshall Montgomery.

It is believed that the $30 million verdict is the highest in the history of Lafayette Parish — surpassing a $21 million verdict also obtained by David in 2007.