Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Roxanne Watson filed two successive lawsuits against Greenwood Leflore Hospital and Dr. John Lucas III (collectively, “GLH”), alleging medical negligence. Watson’s first complaint was dismissed without prejudice because a notice of claim was not filed with the chief executive officer of the governmental entity at least ninety days before instituting suit as required by Mississippi Code Section 11-46-11(1) (Rev. 2019) of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA). Watson then refiled the complaint. GLH sought dismissal of the second complaint, contending that Watson was required to provide it with a second notice of claim and that the one-year statute of limitations had expired. The trial court denied GLH’s motion to dismiss, and the Mississippi Supreme Court granted an interlocutory appeal. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Watson satisfied the MTCA’s notice requirements, affirming the trial court’s order denying the motion to dismiss. View "Greenwood Leflore Hospital et al. v. Watson" on Justia Law

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In the aftermath of her divorce from ex-Methodist minister Andrew Johnson, Kim Miller sued not only Johnson but also his employer, the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (MUMC). Miller also sued fellow MUMC minister Susan Woodard. Her claims against Johnson were aimed at his risky extramarital sexual behavior, which led to Johnson contracting HIV and later infecting Miller with the virus. Miller based her claims against MUMC and Woodard on her allegation that, had the conference and the fellow minister followed United Methodist policy and procedure, they would have discovered Johnson’s behavior and remedied it or warned Miller before she contracted HIV. The question before the Mississippi Supreme Court on interlocutory appeal was whether she established a wrong for which she could legally recover. After review, the Court found "it is clear that Miller seeks to hold MUMC and Woodard legally accountable for failing to follow religious doctrine and procedure. Under the First Amendment, this Court has no authority to consider and enforce religious standards. Thus, MUMC and Woodard are entitled to summary judgment." The Court found Miller’s claims against her ex-husband, Johnson, were not barred by the First Amendment. Still, Johnson insisted he was entitled to summary judgment based on a mutual release in Miller and Johnson’s divorce settlement. The Court found Johnson did not pursue his affirmative defense based on the release for more than two and a half years. By that time, the trial court deemed this defense waived. And after review, the Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Johnson summary judgment on this basis. The trial court's orders denying MUMC’s and Woodard’s motions for summary judgment were reversed; the order denying Johnson’s motion for summary judgment was affirmed and Miller’s claims against Johnson remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Woodard v. Miller" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court in this interlocutory appeal was whether the trial court erred by finding cause to grant a 120-day extension of time to serve process on Progressive Gulf Insurance Company. Plaintiffs, Jaswinder Kaur, Harvinder Singh, Karanveer Kamboj, and Gurdev Kamboj, were occupants of a vehicle that was involved in a collision with a vehicle operated by Mary Orebo and owned by Cassandra Mann. Plaintiffs’ vehicle had uninsured-motorist coverage provided by Progressive Gulf Insurance Company. Each Plaintiff filed a separate suit against all three Defendants on the eve of the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations. Progressive contended that difficulty locating other Defendants, the owner and driver of the vehicle, was not adequate cause. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in that decision. However, all parties agreed that the circuit court erred by refusing to dismiss the suits of three of the Plaintiffs who failed to seek extensions of time to serve process on Progressive before the end of the original 120-day period. View "Progressive Gulf Insurance Company v. Kaur, et al." on Justia Law

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The crux of this interlocutory appeal was whether Plaintiffs, complaining of personal injury and property damage as a result of the alleged improper use of an oil-disposal well, had to exhaust their administrative remedies before the Mississippi State Oil and Gas Board (MSOGB) prior to proceeding on their common-law claims in the circuit court. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court determined the MSOGB could provide no adequate remedy for the Baucums’ personal-injury and property-damage claims, the Baucums were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before proceeding in the circuit court. View "Petro Harvester Oil & Gas Co., LLC, et al. v. Baucum" on Justia Law

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Stacie Murray was driving home from work in the northbound lane on Highway 35 in Scott County, Mississippi. Kevin Parker, while in the course and scope of his employment with James Gray d/b/a Gray Trucking (Gray), was driving a fully loaded log truck in the southbound lane. The two vehicles collided. Murray sued Parker and Gray alleging she suffered personal injuries and property damage as a result of Parker’s negligence. The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review centered on whether allowing cross-examination of an expert witness with the accident report and a judicial opinion from another case amounted to reversible error. The Court also considered whether cumulative error required a new trial. James Hannah testified for Murray as an expert in accident reconstruction. Hannah testified that he visited the accident scene about two months after the accident and found a “gouge mark” in the highway that, in his opinion, indicated the area of impact. Hannah admitted that the highway patrolman who investigated the wreck, Trooper Greg Lucas, did not find or photograph a gouge mark. Hannah also admitted that he did not know whether the gouge mark was actually caused by the collision. Gray and Parker filed a pretrial motion to exclude Hannah’s testimony and opinions regarding the alleged gouge mark. They argued that Hannah’s testimony was based on “mere speculation” and was neither relevant nor reliable. But the trial court denied the motion and allowed Hannah to testify about the gouge mark. Over Murray’s objections, defense counsel cross-examined Hannah regarding the Uniform Crash Report (UCR) (i.e., the accident report) that Trooper Lucas prepared after the accident. The jury returned a nine-to-three verdict in favor of Gray and Parker. Murray filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. The Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals properly concluded that “[b]ecause Trooper Lucas was not qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction, his opinions on the paths of the subject vehicles and fault did not satisfy Rule 803(8)’s trustworthiness requirement. Accordingly, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the UCR’s narrative and diagram.” Further, the Court of Appeal properly concluded the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the cross-examination of Hannah because “it had no relevance to the present case and yet created a risk of unfair prejudice, misleading the jury, and confusing the issues.” The Court found Murray was entitled to a new trial. View "Murray v. James Gray d/b/a Gray Trucking" on Justia Law

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Carolyn Bowen sued Cottage Grove Nursing Home for wrongful death and medical negligence on behalf of her husband, Guy Bowen. Guy Bowen had been a resident of Cottage Grove since June 2016. In May 2017, Guy was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had metastasized into his organs and bones. In October 2017, Guy fell in the shower at Cottage Grove and sustained multiple fractures. The attending radiologist noted that the fractures were likely pathologic. Guy was transferred to a rehabilitation facility and then to Pleasant Hill Nursing Home. Guy did not return to Cottage Grove. On March 18, 2018, Guy presented to the emergency department at UMMC with various pain. A CT scan showed diffuse metastatic disease through his liver and widespread osseous disease in his bones. Guy died five days later. Carolyn in her suit, Carolyn claimed that Guy’s fall at Cottage Grove, in which he sustained multiple fractures, was the cause of Guy’s death five months later. Cottage Grove filed a summary-judgment motion for Carolyn’s failure to produce medical-expert testimony. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the trial court erred by denying Cottage Grove’s summary-judgment motion. "Cottage Grove met its summary-judgment burden by showing that Carolyn had failed to produce sworn expert testimony establishing a prima facie case of medical negligence." View "Cottage Grove Nursing Home, L.P. v. Bowen" on Justia Law

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In September 2019, Robert McGowen filed a complaint in circuit court alleging that he had been sexually abused by a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in 1984 and 1985 when McGowen was twelve to thirteen years old. According to McGowen, he repressed the memories until December 2018. Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Biloxi answered the complaint and moved to dismiss based on the expiration of the statute of limitations in Mississippi Code Section 15-1-49. In April 2020, the circuit court entered an order dismissing the complaint without prejudice. McGowen appealed. Accepting the allegations in the complaint as true, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred by finding that McGowen failed to state a claim. "Based on the allegations, we cannot agree that there is no set of facts upon which McGowan could recover; the decision of the circuit court is reversed and remanded." View "McGowen v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Biloxi" on Justia Law

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Mississippi Baptist Medical Center (MBMC) sought, and the Mississippi Supreme Court granted interlocutory appeal challenging a circuit court's denial of its motion for summary judgment. Mississippi Baptist Health System (MBHS) also appealed the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment in its favor, claiming that the circuit court erred by granting the judgment without prejudice instead of with prejudice. In 2016, Roosevelt Ard arrived at the emergency room at MBMC complaining of chest pain and leg numbness after earlier undergoing an outpatient cardiac stress test. Ard was checked by two nurses and seen by an emergency room physician, Dr. William Dawson, an emergency-medicine physician employed by Mississippi Physicians, LLP. Dr. Dawson ordered one shot of Dilaudid for Ard’s pain. He then ordered a chest X-ray and EKG, which were both normal, ruling out cardiovascular issues. Dr. Dawson diagnosed Ard with acute back strain and discharged him with a prescription for oral pain relief and muscle relaxants. Eight hours after being discharged, Ard became unresponsive at home and was rushed to the emergency room at University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) via ambulance, where he was pronounced dead after cardiac arrest. Ard’s autopsy report showed that the cause of death was aortic dissection. Plaintiffs, Ard's family, filed a complaint against MBMC, MBHS, Dr. Dawson, and Mississippi Physicians, arguing: (1) MBMC was vicariously liable for the medical care rendered by Dr. Dawson at MBMC’s emergency department; and (2) MBMC was vicariously liable for the allegedly negligent care provided by its nursing employees in the emergency department. After the Plaintiffs did not answer MBMC and Dr. Dawson’s propounded discovery for two years, MBMC filed a motion for summary judgment. MBMC claimed it was not vicariously liable and that negligence could not have proximately caused Ard’s injuries. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that the circuit erred by denying MBMC’s motion for summary judgment since the Plaintiffs failed to establish the element of causation in their medical-malpractice claim against MBMC. The Court also found that the circuit court erred by not dismissing the Plaintiffs’ claims against MBHS with prejudice. View "Mississippi Baptist Health Systems Inc. et al. v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Clayton Harmer, an employee of Coastal Industrial Contractors, failed to yield to a stop sign. The ensuing collision injured Leighann Gonzalez, who filed suit against Coastal Industrial Contractors and Harmer. Coastal admitted vicarious liability by stipulation and then moved to dismiss Harmer. The court dismissed Harmer pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 41. A bifurcated jury trial took place, and the jury awarded Gonzalez compensatory damages in the amount of $3.5 million. Before the punitive damages phase of the bifurcated trial, Gonzalez made an ore tenus motion for recusal and mistrial, which the judge denied. The court granted a directed verdict to Coastal on the issue of punitive damages. Gonzalez appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court judgment. View "Gonzalez v. Coastal Industrial Contractors, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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This case arose from a two-car accident in Mississippi in which a Hyundai Excel was traveling southbound at a closing speed of 68 to 78 mph and, for reasons unknown, crossed the center line into the oncoming lane of traffic, striking a Lincoln Continental passenger car traveling northbound. None of the three Excel occupants survived the collision. This case made it to the Mississippi Supreme Court after an earlier appeal and remand for a new trial. During the remand proceedings, multiple discovery disputes ensued before the trial court ultimately held two 606(b) hearings on October 30, 2018, and January 23, 2019 (nearly four years after the trial court’s original denial of relief). The trial court expressly found that one of Applewhite’s counsel, Dennis Sweet, III, misrepresented his relationship with a witness, Carey Sparks, during the April 2015 hearing. It was not until a January 25, 2018 hearing, that Sweet admitted that he had paid Sparks to perform services during the Applewhite trial. This admission was made only after documents evidencing multiple payments to Sparks by Sweet surfaced in the discovery ordered by the Supreme Court. During discovery, multiple witnesses, including six attorneys, testified that Sparks stated that he had knowledge of discussions of the jurors during the trial. Following the 606(b) hearings, the trial court issued a one-paragraph order, finding that the posttrial testimony of the jurors offered no evidence supporting Defendants’ allegations. Reviewing the trial court proceedings, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded "a fair and impartial trial was not had." The Court found "overwhelming evidence of actual impropriety, which destroys any confidence in the jury verdict. The facts developed in this record threaten the public’s confidence in our system of justice. We find that this case is permeated by actual deception upon the trial court, which led to Plaintiffs’ obtaining a favorable ruling. Such improper acts of misconduct leave a indelible stain on these proceedings. We are loathe to overturn jury verdicts, yet justice dictates a reversal and a retrial, unencumbered by extraneous assaults on our justice system. We considered the ultimate sanction of dismissal of this case with prejudice. We decline to impose such a severe sanction, for no evidence suggests that any Plaintiff employed Sparks or had knowledge of Sparks’s actions. But the judgment must be reversed." This case was remanded for a new trial. View "Hyundai Motor America, et al. v. Applewhite, et al." on Justia Law