Press Release from Gibbs Travis, PLLC and Perrier & Lacoste, LLC
July 12, 2016
July 12, 2016
The law firms of Gibbs Travis, PLLC and Perrier & Lacoste, LLC successfully defended trucking company Total Transportation of Mississippi, LLC and its driver Will Gates of Isola, MS in a lawsuit brought in the Circuit Court for Humphreys County, Mississippi by Charles Fairley as conservator for the estate of James D. Owens. The suit alleged that Gates, an independent contractor driving for Total Transportation, was negligent in striking Owens on September 23, 2013 while he walked along Louisiana Highway 434, an unlit, two-lane road in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. Fairley alleged that Owens had sustained a permanent and disabling brain injury as a result of the accident and asked the jury to award $30,000,000.
Prior to trial, Judge Jannie M. Lewis granted Total Transportation partial summary judgment and dismissed the complaint against the company.
At the eight day trial in Belzoni, MS, the defense team put on evidence that Owens had a history of drug abuse, had walked off his job on the night of the accident, and was walking in or the side of the dark road at the time of the accident. They further established that the accident occurred in Mr. Gates’ lane of travel and that his tractor-trailer never veered from its lane of travel. The defendants also disputed that the brain injury was as severe as alleged, citing evidence that Owens was active both physically and mentally and could return to work if he so chose.
After deliberating five hours, the jury returned a defense verdict, finding that Will Gates did not act negligently in his operation of his tractor-trailer.
“I have to compliment the jury for their attention and thoughtfulness in considering the actual evidence and not being swayed by emotions,” said defense attorney Robert Gibbs of Jackson, MS. “The plaintiff’s attorneys wanted the jury to ignore all of the evidence and award millions simply because a tractor-trailer was involved. The jurors of Humphreys County were able to separate the facts from the fiction and determined that the evidence proved that Mr. Gates did not act negligently in any way and had no way to see Mr. Owens when he walked directly in front of the truck on a pitch dark night wearing dark clothing.”
Defense attorney Guy Perrier was also pleased by the jurors’ decision. “This accident happened in Louisiana, but the plaintiff’s attorneys elected to file suit in Humphreys County, Mississippi. They apparently did not understand their location of choice. The people from this county are hard-working, fair, and have a great deal of common sense. Will Gates is also a good, hard-working truck driver who was simply doing his job. The jury did not appreciate the efforts of the plaintiff’s attorneys to make him out to be something different.”
Mr. Fairley was represented by attorneys Oby T. Rogers of Collins, MS, Thomas S. Moore of Birmingham, AL, and Edward Blackmon, Jr. of Canton, MS.
Defense Verdict for National Trucking Company in Mississippi
Guy Perrier and Trey Wimberly of Perrier & Lacoste, LLC, and Robert Gibbs of Gibbs Travis PLLC, obtained a defense verdict in the Circuit Court of Humphreys County, Mississippi for a major national trucking company and its driver. Following an eight-day trial the 12-member jury deliberated for five hours before returning a unanimous verdict of no liability in favor of the defendants. Such verdicts are uncommon in this rural county in the Mississippi Delta which is a notoriously difficult venue for defendants.
The case arose out of an accident that occurred at night on September 23, 2013, on Louisiana Highway 434 in Lacombe, Louisiana. Plaintiff’s counsel filed the lawsuit in Humphreys County, where the truck driver resides. Plaintiff was walking on the shoulder of the dark, unlit, rural highway. The truck driver was operating an 18-wheeler, and had just pulled out of the driveway of a distribution center. The truck driver completed his turn and was looking straight ahead when plaintiff stepped into his lane of travel. The evidence at trial showed that the truck driver never left his lane, although plaintiff attempted to prove that he ran off the roadway before his vehicle struck plaintiff.
Plaintiff alleged injuries including a closed fracture of the base of the skull with hemorrhage, loss of consciousness, lung contusion, acute respiratory failure, closed fracture of one rib, acute post-hemorrhagic anemia, delirium, hypertensive encephalopathy, and closed fracture of the shaft of the clavicle. Plaintiff further claimed a severe, traumatic brain injury from the accident requiring inpatient, brain injury rehabilitation for the remainder of his life. A CT of plaintiff’s brain showed a right frontal subdural hematoma, as well as an area of hemorrhage. A repeat CT scan showed an increase in the size of the hematoma, and hemorrhages. On September 24, 2013, surgery was performed to remove part of plaintiff’s skull to relieve pressure on his brain, followed by two follow-up procedures to repair his skull in February 2014 and March 2016. Plaintiff was allowed to show the jury several graphic photographs of his head wound and other injuries over defendants’ objections. Plaintiff’s past medical expenses were $610,000 and the future medical expenses presented to the jury were over $28 million. Plaintiff also claimed past and future lost wages totaling $439,000. The total special damages claim exceeded $30 million and Plaintiff asked the jury for a total of $31 million, plus an award for pain and suffering.
Several favorable pre-trial rulings helped set the stage for a successful defense. Significantly, the court granted defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims for direct negligence against the trucking company, and plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. As a result, plaintiff was unable to present any evidence of alleged D.O.T. violations, or other lawsuits against the trucking company, and was forced to try the case on the facts of the accident itself. Additionally, the court granted defendants’ motion in limine to declare choice of law. As a result, liability was determined under Louisiana law, and damages were determined under Mississippi law, which provides a $1 million cap on non-economic damages.
With respect to liability for the accident, defendants were able to persuade the jury that plaintiff was 100% at fault for the accident. Plaintiff testified was that he was wearing an orange reflective safety vest and never left the shoulder of the roadway; however, the testimony of several witnesses at the accident scene revealed that the vest did not have reflective tape, and the investigating officer testified that defendants’ vehicle never left the roadway. Ultimately, the jury determined the accident was caused by plaintiff’s negligence in walking on the shoulder of a dark, unlit, rural highway at night, with his back to approaching traffic, and then stepping out into the roadway prior to impact.
Kingfish note: 20 + 28 = 0.