Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – June 5, 2014

Machon Lyons v. Direct General – The Court denies rehearing in this case.

City of Jackson v.  Lewis, et al. –  police pursuit case – The city had a road block.  When  Butler was observed trying to avoid the roadblock, a pursuit ensued and A car full of people were injured (one died)  when they were hit by the fleeing Butler.  By that time, the officer had been told to end the pursuit.  At trial, the court found the city 100% at fault and divided up the $500,000 cap among the three. On appeal, the Ct. of Appeals held that the City did not act in reckless disregard. The plaintiffs moved for cert. which this Court granted.  The Court ends up reversing the Ct of APpeals finding that it misinterpreted the factors for determining reckless disregard set forth in  City of Ellisville v. Richardson, 913 So.2d 973 (Miss 2005).  When this happened, the City had a policy that pursuits occurred only when an officer knew a felony had been committed and had probable cause to believe that person fleeing committed that felony. The pursuit here violated that policy.  

Pryor v. State –  public records – A few years after Pryor was convicted of sexual battery, he filed a motion with the circuit clerk asking for specific documents. The trial court denied the motion finding that the documents did not exist and the motion was just a fishing expedition. The Ct. of App. Agreed.  The Miss.S.Ct granted cert. and affirms finding that someone who is aggrieved at the denial of a public records request may file suit in chancery court.  

Union Carbide v. Estate of Nix – Asbestos mesothelioma case – Nix worked as a drilling manager for WellTech from 1980 to 1986.  To keep the drilling mud viscous, workers used Union Carbide products (Visbestos and Super Visbestos)  that were 99% asbestos. In the 1990s Nix was involved in asbestos litigation against several defendants including Union Carbide.  He settled with Union Carbide and signed a partial release.  In 2010, Nix  was diagnosed with mesothelioma.  He again sued Union Carbide alleging inadequate warning and design defect.     After a jury trial, Nix was awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitives.   The Court then awarded the plaintiff $500,000 in attorneys fees.   The Miss.S.Ct. affirms the award of compensatory damages but reverses and remands on punitives. 

At trial, the plaintiff’s expert opined that the warnings on the Visbestos bags were inadequate. Nix testified that he read the warnings on the bag but it was impossible to use the product without creating dust. The verdict form in the case listed 40 different entities even though Union Carbide was the only defendant. The jury awarded damages of $1,000,000 and assigned 25% fault to Union Carbide. Nix demanded that the jury be asked whether they meant to award $1,000,000 total. Union Carbide Objected. So the judge sent the jury an interrogatory asking them if they knew that a $1,000,000 total verdict would mean that Union Carbide would pay $250,000.

Did you intend to award $1 million dollars to the Plaintiff as against Union Carbide only, or did you intend for the $1million to be the total as to all entities on the verdict
form? The way it stands now the Court under stands that you only award ed $250,000 as to Union Carbide? What ever your answer is 9 of you must agree.

The jury responded that it meant to award $250,000 as against Union Carbide. It then decided punitives and awarded $500,000.

As to punitive damages, Union Carbide first argued that the release Nix signed in the 80s barred Nix from now requesting punitive damages. The Court rejects this argument. However, it does take seriously Union Carbide’s argument that the judge’s note to the jury conveyed the judge’s concern that the damages award of $250,000 was too low prompting the jury to award the $500,000 in punitives because of this influence. (It is Judge Landrum, after all). The Court therefore reverses and remands on punitive damages.

One thought on “Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – June 5, 2014

  1. ” Nix demanded that the jury be asked whether they meant to award $1,000,000 total.” Sometimes you are just better off not demanding.

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