On Thursday a Hinds County Circuit Court jury returned a 12–0 defense verdict in a nursing home negligence case against Lakeland Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which is in the Tara Cares system.

The plaintiff alleged that the nursing home’s negligence resulted in dehydration, fecal impaction and death. The decedent was a resident of Lakeland for 13 days between 2 hospitalizations. Plaintiff blamed her severe dehydration on the staff at Lakeland not giving sufficient fluids. 

Lakeland defended that the decedent had end state Alzheimer’s that was charted by many doctors and the death certificate listed Alzheimer’s as the cause of death. Defendant argued that the dehydration was caused by the decedent’s body shutting down from Alzheimer’s and she was no longer able to process food and liquids due to kidney and liver failure.

The defense argued that the decedent’s condition was caused by progressive dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Brad Smith, La’Verne Edney and Jeremy Clay at Baker Donelson in Jackson represented the defendant. Shane and Rebecca Langston represented the plaintiff.

Judge Winston Kidd presided in the case.

All 12 members of the jury were African-American.

My Take:

This verdict is an example of how conventional wisdom is often wrong.

Conventional wisdom is that a defendant can’t get a defense verdict in a Hinds County case tried to an African-American jury. That’s wrong.

African-Americans serving on juries in Hinds County are, in general, open minded to both sides’ presentations. The defendant has just as good of a chance to win them over as the plaintiff.  

One of the big problems with the plaintiff-leaning perception of Hinds County is that often no one hears about defense verdicts because they aren’t publicized.

For instance, there was a defense verdict in a medical malpractice case in Hinds County a few weeks ago that I haven’t read about anywhere. I haven’t written about it because all I know was that it was a defense verdict and, I believe, the lawyers were Whit Johnson (defense) and Dennis Sweet (plaintiff).

Defendants win civil trials in Hinds County all the time. But some people want to argue that it’s a plaintiff venue because plaintiffs can win a big verdict in the county.

I’m not saying that there are not a few venues in Mississippi where a plaintiff may start with an advantage. But I’m saying that Hinds County is not one of those venues and is unfairly lumped into that category. Just because a plaintiff doesn’t start in the same hole in Hinds County as in many of Mississippi’s 82 counties does not mean that the plaintiff has an advantage.

  • Anon

    You’re just plain wrong on this one Philip. Hinds County is pro-plaintiff due partially to the judges there. There are more egregious verdicts there than any other county in the state. the problem isn’t the winning percentages, it’s how big the Plaintiffs win. Frequently $10,000 cases garner $2m verdicts. That’s a “pro-plaintiff” venue.

  • Robert

    What race was the Plaintiff

  • Philip

    Anon,
    You and I have a different definition of a pro-plaintiff venue.
    Mine is one where the plaintiff generally starts ahead. Jefferson County back in the day is an extreme example.
    Yours is one where the defendant can unexpectedly get his ass handed to him by a jury. I get that view, but it’s not my definition.
    If a judge poisons the well with the jury, I agree that it can influence the jury. That’s true anywhere, not just Hinds County.
    In my opinion, Judge Kidd does not poison the well with the jury. He is extremely low key in the courtroom. I know he gets reversed a lot for rulings he makes for the plaintiff, but his demeanor in the courtroom is professional and his rulings are not impacting the jury’s decision.
    I’ve tried cases before him from both the plaintiff and defense side. I didn’t always agree with his rulings, but I never saw him dress down the lawyers in front of the jury or do anything else that I thought poisoned the well.

  • Roland Tembo

    Anon,
    If it makes you feel any better, $10k cases frequently garner $500 verdicts in Rankin County (assuming the plaintiff can even obtain a “favorable” verdict at all).

  • Anderson

    I’ll agree that the judges in Hinds are a much bigger problem than the juries.
    Defense lawyers shouldn’t imagine themselves blameless. I handled an appeal for a client who got hammered in Hinds; the trial counsel apparently thought the trial was going to be no big deal, because their theory of the case seemed airtight.
    Unfortunately for them, plaintiff’s counsel turned out to have another theory of the case. Funny how that happens.
    Doubtless defense counsel explains the verdict as “those damn Hinds County juries.”

  • Franklin

    Jefferson County “back in the day”……..???!!??!!?? I guess that’s right as long as “the day” was , say , yesterday .

  • Philip

    Back in the day when–unlike now–there were hundreds of civil actions in Jefferson County involving claims of thousands of plaintiffs in bet the company litigation.
    If you think it’s still that day, there are some venue and joinder cases you ought to get around to reading.

  • BothSidesNow

    I think it drives certain people crazy when the defense coalition does not get to select the trial judge. This case would have never made it to a jury in the First Judicial District. No medical negligence case would.

  • Anderson

    “This case would have never made it to a jury in the First Judicial District. No medical negligence case would.”
    Uh, what? This case *was* in the First Judicial District of Hinds. Says so on the pretrial order, anyway.

  • Philip

    He’s talking about the First Circuit Court District that includes Tupelo and the surrounding counties.

  • Anderson

    Ohhh, sorry, my bad.

  • Franklin

    “If you think it’s still that day, there are some venue and joinder cases you ought to get around to reading.”
    Nah–read them.
    I thought your point was that Jefferson County was no longer a pro-plaintiff venue and it left me kinda wondering where you thought all those jurors from “back in the day ” got off to