JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Mississippi upheld a jury verdict that absolved Total Transportation of Mississippi LLC and its employee, Will Gates, for blame in an accident in which Gates struck a pedestrian who wandered onto the highway, according to an Oct. 25 opinion.
The state’s high court said James Owens “had been experiencing drug-withdrawal symptoms when he wandered off his work shift onto a dark Louisiana highway” in September 2013 and was hit by Gates, who “did not see Owens.” The ruling said the truck Gates was driving as part of his Total Transportation work duties “never left its lane of travel” during the incident and was traveling at 20 mph.
“After review, we find the evidence supported the jury’s verdict that Will Gates had not been negligent,” Associate Justice James Maxwell II said in the Supreme Court’s opinion.
In addition, Maxwell said the Supreme Court also rejected Owens’ argument that that his motion for a mistrial was improperly denied by the lower court because Gates' cousin, who is a justice court judge, was allowed to serve as a jury consultant in the case.
“This case was a civil jury trial in circuit court, not justice court, and all Owens can show is that (Judge Abraham) Gates sat in the courtroom during the trial,” the opinion said. “Like the circuit court judge, we fail to see any grounds for a mistrial.”
Maxwell said in the Supreme Court ruling that, in his role as a jury consultant, Abraham Gates had “no direct contact or interaction with the jury.”
The court said Owens also claimed on appeal that the verdict entered by the jury did not comply with Louisiana law and that the jury’s knowledge of his drug use was unfair. The Supreme Court disagreed with both of these arguments.
“Here, the evidence supports the jury’s conclusion that Owens, and only Owens, breached his duty of care,” the opinion said. “Owens was walking in the lane of travel of an unlit highway with his back to oncoming traffic and wearing dark clothing. So, the jury’s verdict is consistent with factually similar cases applying Louisiana law.”