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Miss. SC overturns $2.5M verdict

By Jessica M. Karmasek | May 18, 2011


JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - The Mississippi Supreme Court has overturned a $2.5 million judgment in favor of a cable company worker who was injured after touching a live electrical wire.

The Court, in a ruling filed Thursday, reversed the decision of the Hinds County Circuit Court and remanded the case for a new trial.

Time Warner -- now Comcast Cable -- employee David Scott Marble was injured when he touched a live electrical wire while trying to splice a new cable into an old cable. He subsequently brought a lawsuit against Deviney Construction Company Inc., alleging it negligently had dug up the electrical wire and then failed to secure it.

After a trial, the Hinds County jury found in favor of Marble and awarded him $2.5 million.

Deviney appealed, arguing, among other things, that the trial judge's ruling on the presentation of witnesses constituted reversible error.

The state's high court agreed with the construction company. Justice Ann Hannaford Lamar wrote the Court's opinion.

It is a "fundamental tenet" that a plaintiff in a civil suit has the initial burden of production before the defendant must present its case, the Court explained.

"The trial judge's ruling violated this basic principle, as she (Judge Tomie T. Green) forced Deviney to present evidence by questioning two of its defense witnesses before Marble had finished presenting his case," it wrote. "Deviney was forced to speculate as to what evidence Marble's later witnesses would present and try to address that evidence during Marble's case-in-chief. And Deviney was unable to recall its two fact witnesses to rebut any of the testimony offered by the eight plaintiff's witnesses that followed.

"While we agree that a court has broad discretion under Rule 611(a) to manage the pace of a trial by placing 'reasonable' limits on the 'mode and order of interrogating witnesses and presenting evidence,' it must do so without unduly interfering with the presentation of either party's case."

The state's trial courts, the Court said, must recognize a litigant's broad discretion as a matter of trial strategy to offer evidence in a manner that will most effectively present its case.

"A defendant should not be required to present his or her evidence during the plaintiff's case," the Court wrote.

"We find this error to be of such 'magnitude' that it did in fact 'unduly prejudice' Deviney, and we therefore reverse and remand for a new trial."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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