The Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has awarded $2.4 million in additional damages to a permanently disabled victim of an automobile accident involving underage drinking. Three teenagers from the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette were killed, and the man receiving the award is one of two teens who survived the crash on August 21, 2005, just days before Hurricane Katrina.
Ryan Wiltz was 16 when the accident happened on Louisiana Road 16, near the Sun community in St. Tammany’s Parish. Brian LaFontaine, 17, was driving the vehicle the teens were in when it went out of control and struck a tree. Investigators said LaFontaine’s blood alcohol level was two-and-a-half times the legal limit for adults in Louisiana. Charie Billiot and Rachel Gabb, both 16, were killed along with LaFontaine. Billiot’s sister Chrissie was the only other survivor, and the only passenger wearing a seat belt. The teens had been tubing on the Bogue Chitto River to celebrate the start of their senior year in high school.
Wiltz was left partially paralyzed and suffered irreversible brain damage. His parents filed a lawsuit in the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, LA against the Meraux Food Store and Winn-Dixie in Chalmette. A Jefferson Parish jury found the defendants partially responsible for Wiltz’s injuries in August 2011, and awarded $18.5 million to Ryan Wiltz, $15 million of which was designated for future medical expenses. The amount included $600,000 for his pain and suffering. But the three-judge appeals court panel last month decided that amount was not enough, and increased it to $3 million. Judge Hans Liljeberg called the $600,000 award “abusively low.”
The Wiltz’s attorney, Richard Trahant, said he was pleased with the appeals court’s decision, but added that he expects the defendants to appeal the decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The case is Gina and Timothy Wiltz, et al v. Brothers Petroleum, LLC, et al, case number 13-CA-332 C/W 13-CA-333 & 13-CA-334 before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana. The trial was held in the 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish, case number 630-138 C/W 634-479 C/W 634-752, Division “J.”