Last week in a 5-3 split, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed a trial court JNOV and reinstated a jury verdict of $1,161,000 in Cheeks v. Autozone, Inc. Here is the Court’s opinion.
Here is my 2012 post on the verdict. The original verdict was for $2,580,000 with 55% fault apportioned to the plaintiff.
From my 2012 post:
The plaintiff was hit by a car while walking on a sidewalk in front of an AutoZone store. Plaintiff sued the driver and AutoZone, which argued that it could not be held liable. Here is the trial court’s order denying AutoZone’s motion to dismiss.
It’s my understanding that the plaintiff had $300,000 in medical bills.
The plaintiff settled with the driver before trial.
Justice Randolph wrote the majority opinion joined by Justices Lamar, Kitchens, Chandler and King. The majority reasoned that the verdict was proper because the jury found that AutoZone created an unsafe condition that proximately caused or contributed to plaintiff’s injury.
Chief Justice Waller wrote a dissent joined by Justices Dickinson and Pierce. Justice Coleman did not participate. The dissent believed that the JNOV was proper because the injury was not foreseeable to AutoZone as a matter of law.
This decision will get a lot of water cooler talk by Mississippi lawyers who pay attention. The decision is a major blow to defense lawyers and their clients who go to mediation and proclaim that the Mississippi Supreme Court is one-sided and a place where plaintiff verdicts go to die.
However, it’s not all good news for the plaintiffs. Some would argue that the dissent exhibits a willingness by the Court to substitute its opinion for that of the jury on a fact question (foreseeability, in this case).
Decisions like this create uncertainty for litigants. Uncertainty is good because it promotes settlements.
It’s my opinion that civil defendants who think they are guaranteed to win on appeal are extremely foolish. There are no guarantees in litigation. You can always lose.
An opinion like this is a wake-up call for people who don’t share my opinion.