On Thursday the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and rendered a $2.5 million jury verdict against Kroger in 2009 based on the 2007 beating of a customer in a purse snatching incident. Here is the Court’s opinion in Knox v. Kroger.
Justice Dickinson wrote the Court’s 4–3 decision. In a succinct opinion, the Court held that evidence of three prior purse snatchings and a stolen purse in the three years before the beating was insufficient to put Kroger on notice of an atmosphere of violence in its parking lot. As a result, the trial court should have granted either Kroger’s motion for directed verdict or motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV).
The majority distinguished the case from other premises verdicts by the fact that the other cases had more incidents of crime before the attack.
Justices Carlson, Lamar and Pierce joined the majority opinion. Justice King dissented joined by Justices Kitchens and Chandler.
The minority contended that the evidence was sufficient when considered in the light most favorable to the verdict, as required under the standard of review for ruling on a motion for JNOV.
However, the minority would not have affirmed the trial court. The minority would have reversed and remanded for a set-off due to the trial court’s failure to reduce the verdict by $1,075,000, representing the amount of plaintiff’s settlement with the co-defendant security guard company before trial.
LeAnn Nealy and Donna Brown Jacobs of Butler Snow, Bill Luckett and Mary Leslie Davis represented Kroger on the appeal.
Rocky Wilkins, Ashley Ogden and Jim Smith of Jackson represented the plaintiff.
Both the majority and minority opinions make good arguments. It’s easy to see why this was a close decision that could have gone either way.
This case is an example of why these types of premises cases are dangerous for both sides. A plaintiff might get a big verdict, but the verdict may have a hard time standing up on appeal. There is tremendous uncertainty and serious efforts to settle make sense for both sides.
Is it just me, or was the trial court’s failure to apply an off-set to the settlement a head scratcher?