On August 6, 2009, the Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the jury verdict in a death case handled by our firm along with a Mississippi firm. Michael Raines was killed in 2001 when a 1,500-1,800 pound dredging pipe rolled off the top of a truck and trailer owned by Kittle Heavy Hauling and struck Mr. Raines’ head. The driver of the Kittle Heavy Hauling truck pulled a load of 16 of these large pipes from Sardis, Mississippi, to Greenwood, Mississippi, when the accident happened. The pipes had shifted during transportation and fell after one of the chains was released.
After Michael Raines’ death, his family filed the lawsuit against Kittle Heavy Hauling and Kittle’s driver of the truck. The company and its driver acted negligently or wantonly in failing to secure the load of pipes with chocks, triangular wooden blocks, which are nailed to the end of a four-by-four timber and placed between the pipes. Had the Defendants secured the pipes with the required chocks, Michael Raines would not have been crushed to death because the pipe would not have fallen off the trailer.
The case was filed in Leflore County, Mississippi. After five years of discovery and after the trial court denied Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, the case was presented to a jury in Greenwood, Mississippi in February 2008. For four days, the jury heard evidence concerning the Defendants’ duty to Michael Raines – how that duty was breached – and how that breach proximately caused the death. The Defendants claimed that Inland Dredging Company, Michael Raines’ employer, and Inland’s employees, had the sole responsibility to secure the load of pipes. The Defendants argued to the jury that Inland’s employees and actually Michael Raines himself were at fault. After hearing all of the evidence presented, and after being properly instructed by the trial judge on the applicable law, the jury rendered a unanimous verdict finding that Michael Raines and his co-employees were zero percent at fault. The jury awarded $850,000 for the death of Mr. Raines. The trial court entered an order awarding $340,000 to Plaintiffs which represented 40% of fault the jury allocated to the Defendants.
On appeal, the Defendants did not claim error in the trial court’s evidentiary rulings at trial or with the trial court’s jury instructions. However, the Defendants argued that the trial court should have ruled as a matter of law that these Defendants owed no duty to safely secure the pipes. The Supreme Court of Mississippi disagreed with the Defendants and affirmed the judgment.
Interest accrued on the judgment totals approximately $40,000. In addition to the interest accrued on the judgment, the Defendants will be required to pay an additional 15% statutory penalty for an unsuccessful appeal of a monetary amount. Since this case was filed in March of 2002 and tort reform in Mississippi was not passed until 2003, the statutory penalty still applies in this case.
The case was tried by Julia A. Beasley and Navan Ward from our firm along with Charles Swayze, Jr., and Charles Swayze, III, two very good lawyers, who are with Whittington, Brock & Swayze, in Greenwood, Mississippi. The case was sent to our firm by Randall Cheshire of Almond & Cheshire, another very good lawyer, who is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This was a long, hard battle and one that finally came out right.
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