On July 23, 2015 Circuit Court Judge David Strong entered a $635,325 judgment in McCrory v. Lincoln County School District. The judgment resulted from a tort claims act bench trial in a case involving a car-school bus wreck.

Here is the Court’s Memorandum Opinion and Order.

The accident happened in 2011. The decedent, Tammy Jo Brown was traveling on a road in Wesson when she collided with a Lincoln County school bus traveling in the opposite direction. The school bus was two feet over the center line at the time of the collision. Brown died at the scene.

Brown was speeding: 68 mph in a 20 mph zone before the collision and 52 mph at the time of the collision. The school bus was also speeding: 35 mph. The bus driver saw the car approaching from two hills away, yet didn’t get into her own lane. The bus driver also didn’t show up for the trial.

The Court apportioned 90% fault to the bus driver and 10% fault to Brown. The Court assessed damages as $205,917 in economic damages and $500,000 in loss of society and companionship.

Due to Brown’s 10% fault, the damages were reduced and judgment entered in the amount of $635,325.

Defendant’s top offer to settle before trial was $230,000.

Darryl Gibbs of Chhabra & Gibbs in Jackson represented the plaintiff. Bobby Thompson with Copeland Cook in Ridgeland represented the County.

My Take:

Fascinating case.

You have a speeding school bus on the wrong side of the road and you try it because, presumably, you think that there is a good chance that most of the fault will be apportioned to the speeding lady who was in her own lane. Defendant’s pre-trial settlement offer of $230,000 was not insignificant, but it seems to assume a best case outcome for the Defendant.

With $700,000 in damages, the Defendant needs 70% or more fault apportioned to the Plaintiff to break even on the pre-trial offer. Sure that could happen, but a settlement offer needs to factor in that it might not. I would think that a Defendant on the wrong side of the road should expect to be apportioned 70-100% of the fault. That would put the valuation range at $490,000- $700,000. It probably would not take that much to settle the case. But $230,000 probably wouldn’t be tempting.

An interesting offer would have been $325,000. That’s still giving the Defendant less than 50% of the $700,000 in damages. If I’m on the defense side, I can sell that to my client as a good deal.

And it’s a harder offer for the Plaintiff to reject. First, it puts a lot of money in the Plaintiff’s pocket now. Second, it gets into the realm of possibilities where the outcome at trial could be worse.

Defendants want to make settlement offers that translate into hard decisions for Plaintiffs. In this case, offering $50,000 would have been the same as offering zero. Neither number is going to get the case settled. It’s like dealing a poker player 7-2 off-suit and hoping they go all in.

What I’m trying to figure out is whether the $230,000 offer here was any different from offering $50,000. Where was the risk for the Plaintiff in rejecting $230,000 and going to trial? I’m not saying there wasn’t any. But I don’t see it from the Memorandum Opinion.

Another interesting observation is that if the decedent was going slower and not killed, the value of the case would probably have been higher due to severe injuries and high medical bills. That arguably makes pointing the finger at the decedent for speeding a disingenuous argument.

Anyway, this would be a fun case to spitball over beers or talk through in a law school class.

  • randywallace

    No cap?

    • Also, no consideration of cap in discussion of settlement prospects.

    • PhilipThomas

      I figured they had a $1 million policy, which would have made the cap $1 million. If the cap was $500,000, the $230,000 offer makes more sense to me.

  • Pieter T

    If they had Bobby Thompson, it’s insruance.

    Philip, agree with your analysis, subject to the cap comments. Any word on Plaintifff’s last demand?

    Having represented both plaintifs against the government, and defended goverement, it never fails to amaze that more of these cases aren’t settled.

  • Bud Sheppard

    I wonder how they came up with that 90/10 split. Seems a bit arbitrary