That sound that you just heard was the jaws dropping of lawyers all over Mississippi in reaction to the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision in InTown Lessee Associates v. Howard. The Court affirmed a total verdict of $4 million to two plaintiffs were were beaten and robbed at the InTown Suites on I-55 in Northeast Jackson.
Here are the key phrases from Justice Kitchens’ unanimous opinion, which it states repeatedly:
“InTown argues for the first time on appeal……”
“InTown did not make a contemporaneous objection [at trial]……”
Translation: InTown had nothing to appeal because the potential appeal issues were not preserved during the trial.
For instance, InTown couldn’t really attack the damages amount on appeal because at trial InTown agreed to a verdict form that did not separate economic and non-economic damages. The opinion states:
“InTown did not object to these instructions. Because it did not object to the form of the jury instruction at trial, InTown is procedurally barred from doing so on appeal.”
When I blogged about this verdict in 2009 I stated that there was no defense at trial. Even so, I am a little surprised to see this large of a verdict get affirmed on appeal. But if you think about it, this Supreme Court doesn’t have much tolerance for stuff like not preserving objections.
Judge Tommie Green was the trial judge. Jackson attorney Ashley Ogden represented the plaintiffs. Defense trial counsel were Wade Manor and Andy Clark with the Scott Sullivan law firm in Ridgeland.
InTown’s appellate counsel were Trey Jones and Joseph Sclafani with the Brunini law firm in Jackson. To be fair to those guys, they were not hired until after the trial and were playing a losing hand that had already been dealt. Ogden has a reputation of refusing to discuss settlement after trial, so it’s unlikely that there was anything that the Brunini lawyers could do to save this one.
This decision will be good for the business of appellate defense lawyers. The take-away for large corporations and insurance companies is to hire your appellate lawyers before the trial and have them in the courtroom to make sure that all potential appeal issues are preserved.
Here is Randy Wallace’s take on the decision.