On Friday a Lauderdale County Circuit Court jury rendered a defense verdict in Payne v. Gowdy et al. in a case tried before Judge Lester Williamson. Here are the case details as reported to me.
The decedent, Marie Payne, was walking in a parking garage in Anderson Hospital in Meridian after a doctors appointment. Cleveland Gowdy was driving his personal pickup truck to an appointment to get a DOT physical to renew his commercial driver’s license so that he could keep driving 18 wheelers. He worked for Schneider National, but was not on the clock and was not driving a Schneider vehicle at the time. Gowdy missed a parking space, put his pickup in reverse and accidentally backed over Marie Payne, an elderly 78 year old female. Ms. Payne died about 30 minutes after the accident.
The plaintiffs sued Gowdy and his employer, Schneider National, alleging that Gowdy was in the scope and course of his employment because Schneider made the appointment for him to get his DOT physical, he went to a Schneider approved doctor, Schneider paid for the physical and wrote the cost of it off on its taxes as a business expense.
Gowdy testified at trial that although he stopped, looked in his side mirror and rear view mirror, he never saw Payne. He also testified that he turned and watched through his rear window the whole time he was backing his truck, but also did not see her then either. Plaintiffs’ expert testified that Gowdy should have seen Payne when backing because she was tall enough that five to six inches of her head would have been visible over his tailgate. Gowdy’s expert testified that she would have been in a blind spot and would not have been visible to Gowdy.
Schneider’s expert testified that under the FMCSR’s, Gowdy was not "on-duty" when going to get his physical because it was a prerequisite for employment and was not done at the "direction" of Schneider.
The jury deliberated for 2 hours and returned a defense verdict as to liability. Because Gowdy was not found to be negligent, the jury did not have to render a verdict on the employment issues with Schneider National. The Plaintiffs asked for $3 million in damages.
Plaintiffs’ counsel were Rocky Wilkins of Jackson and Henry Palmer of Meridian. Defense counsel were Justin Cluck of Holly Springs (Gowdy) and David Dunbar of Ridgeland (Schneider National).
The moral of the story here is that parking garages are dangerous for pedestrians. Pedestrians in garages should assume that drivers of vehicles do not see them.