On Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated a $500,000 bench verdict in Miss. Dept. of Wildlife v. Webb.
The case involved a high speed boat chase on the Tchoutacabouffa River near Biloxi. Department of Wildlife officials stopped a speeding boater. After the initial stop, the officers instructed the boater to follow them to a safer location. But the boater ran and led them on a high speed boat chase.
The boater was drunk, which is close to a given that time of year on that river. The drunk guy was on the wrong side of the river when he collided with another boat, killing one boater and injuring another.
In a Tort Claims Act trial, the Circuit Court of Harrison County (Judge Lisa Dodson) found that the officers acted in reckless disregard and awarded damages exceeding the $500,000 statutory cap. The judgment was reduced to the cap.
The Court of Appeals reversed.
In a 7-1 decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the verdict. The Court reasoned that there was substantial evidence that the officers acted with reckless disregard. Justice Kitchens wrote the Court’s opinion.
Justice Coleman dissented. The dissent states that the plaintiff failed to offer evidence that the officers appreciated the risk of the suspect fleeing and disregarded those risks.
My take is about that river. I grew up fishing, skiing and boating on the Tchoutacabouffa. It’s a great waterway. A bit dangerous at times, but great. It’s one of the areas that gives the Coast its unique character.