Ill. Cent. Gulf R.R. Co. v. Travis, NO. 2011-CA-00091-SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
PartiesILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY AND THE ESTATE OF ARTHUR IRBY v. MARY TRAVIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINSTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL TRAVIS, DECEASED, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF MICHAEL TRAVIS, DECEASED
Docket NumberNO. 2011-CA-00091-SCT
Decision Date29 November 2012

ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY AND THE ESTATE OF ARTHUR IRBY
v.
MARY TRAVIS, INDIVIDUALLY
AND AS ADMINSTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL TRAVIS, DECEASED, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF MICHAEL TRAVIS, DECEASED

NO. 2011-CA-00091-SCT

SUPREME COURT OF MISSISSIPPI

Dated: November 29, 2012


DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/22/2010

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JANNIE M. LEWIS

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HOLMES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: HARRIS FREDERICK POWERS, III
GLENN F. BECKHAM
EDWARD BLACKMON, JR.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: DONNA BROWN JACOBS
ORLANDO RODRIQUEZ RICHMOND, SR.

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WRONGFUL DEATH

DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND RENDERED - 11/29/2012

MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:

MANDATE ISSUED:

EN BANC.

CARLSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

¶1. Michael Travis died on May 16, 1997, when a train struck his vehicle at a railroad crossing. His mother, Mary Travis, filed a wrongful-death suit against Illinois Central Railroad Company and its employees (collectively "Illinois Central") in the Holmes County Circuit Court. Trial was held in October 2009, and the jury assessed damages in the amount of $6.5 million. Based on the jury's allocation of fault, the trial court entered a judgment in

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favor of Travis in the amount of $4,875,000. Illinois Central filed this appeal. We reverse and render, finding that the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, because the evidence does not support the jury's verdict.

FACTS

¶2. Around 10:00 a.m. on May 16, 1997, a southbound Illinois Central freight train struck a pickup truck driven by Michael Travis at a railroad crossing in the Mileston community of Holmes County, Mississippi. Approximately fifteen trains came through the Mileston crossing each day. The train at issue consisted of two locomotives and 117 cars. Four large headlights on the front of the lead locomotive were on at the time of the accident. The train was traveling at approximately fifty-two miles per hour prior to the accident; the speed limit was sixty miles per hour. The train was operated by Arthur Irby, the engineer, and A. C. Isaac, the conductor.

¶3. The decedent was familiar with the Mileston railroad crossing and had traversed it multiple times each week, while calling on farmers in the community to whom he provided loan assistance. On the morning of the accident, Michael had driven through that particular crossing on his way to meet with R. C. Howard. Returning from Howard's home, Michael approached the Mileston crossing again. As he approached, a large tractor with affixed farm implements was crossing the railroad tracks, and Michael backed away to give the tractor room to pass. At this time, the Illinois Central train was proceeding south through a curve just north of the Mileston crossing.

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¶4. Isaac testified that, as the train came out of the curve, he saw the tractor approaching the crossing from the highway side of the tracks - traveling from west to east. As soon as they saw the tractor, Irby began sounding the horn. Isaac and Irby testified that the tractor safely reached the other side of the tracks, and there seemed to be no need to reduce the speed of the train. In fact, at fifty-two miles per hour, the train already was traveling below the sixty-miles-per-hour speed limit.

¶5. Isaac had seen Michael's truck back away from the crossing to let the tractor pass, and he testified that there was no indication that Michael was going to proceed onto the tracks or attempt to cross in front of the oncoming train. Irby saw Michael's truck once the tractor cleared the tracks, and he also believed the truck would stop. However, after the tractor cleared, Michael slowly approached the crossing and came to stop directly beside the tracks. His tires did not cross the tracks, but his truck was close enough to be clipped by the train. Michael died shortly after the accident. Additional facts will be discussed as needed.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶6. Michael's mother, Mary Travis, filed a wrongful-death suit against Illinois Central and Arthur Irby in the Circuit Court of Holmes County. Travis alleged that locomotive engineer Irby was negligent because he failed to timely and properly apply the brakes and failed to keep a proper and reasonable lookout. Against Illinois Central, Travis alleged failure to properly train the crew; failure to adopt and enforce adequate policies and procedures relating to train operation; and failure to warn of the dangerous condition at the

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crossing where the accident occurred, when Illinois Central knew or should have known that the crossing was unreasonably dangerous.

¶7. Initially, the case was removed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, where Irby was dismissed from the suit, and summary judgment was granted in favor of Illinois Central on all issues. Travis appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's order, finding that the district court did not have diversity jurisdiction. Travis v. Irby, 326 F.3d 644, 651 (5th Cir. 2003). The case was remanded to the Holmes County Circuit Court. Id.

¶8. The first trial commenced on September 9, 2003, and culminated six days later with the jury awarding Travis $5 million in damages. The jury attributed twenty-five percent of the negligence to Michael and seventy-five percent to Illinois Central. Based on the jury's apportionment of fault, the trial court entered a judgment against Illinois Central in the amount of $3,750,000. Illinois Central appealed the verdict, and this Court reversed and remanded for a new trial. Irby v. Travis, 935 So. 2d 884, 898 (Miss. 2006).

¶9. The second trial commenced on October 5, 2009. The jury returned its verdict on October 8, 2009, and found that Michael and Irby each were twenty-five percent at fault and Illinois Central was fifty percent at fault. The jury assessed a total of $6.5 million in damages; based on the allocation of fault, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Travis in the amount of $4,875,000. Illinois Central filed several post-trial motions, including a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and, alternatively,

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for a new trial and/or remittitur. Following the trial court's denial of these motions, Illinois Central filed this appeal.

DISCUSSION

¶10. Illinois Central presents the following issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's motion for JNOV because there was no factual or legal basis to support the jury's verdict; (2) the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's objections to portions of the train crew's depositions regarding the training they received from Illinois Central; (3) the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's Daubert1 motions to exclude the expert testimony of Dr. David Lipscomb, Jim Scott, and Dr. Bernard Abrams; (4) the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's objections to Travis's jury instructions and in giving instructions P-3, P-6, P-7, P-8, P-11, and P-16 to the jury; (5) the trial court erred by denying and/or modifying Illinois Central's proposed jury instructions D-1, D-2, D-3, D-6, D-7, D-8, and D-10; (6) the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's motion for mistrial; (7) the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's motion for change of venue; (8) the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's objections to Travis's deposition designations; (9) the jury's verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence; and (10) the amount of the jury's verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

¶11. The first issue - whether the trial court erred in denying Illinois Central's motion for JNOV - is dispositive, therefore, we will address that issue only. This Court applies a de

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novo standard of review when considering a trial court's denial of a motion for JNOV. Wilson v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 883 So. 2d 56, 64 (Miss. 2004). We have explained the standard as follows:

[T]his Court will consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the appellee, giving that party the benefit of all favorable inference[s] that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. If the facts so considered point so overwhelmingly in favor of the appellant that reasonable [jurors] could not have arrived at a contrary verdict, we are required to reverse and render. On the other hand if there is substantial evidence in support of the verdict, that is, evidence of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair minded jurors in the exercise of impartial judgment might have reached different conclusions, affirmance is required.

Ill. Cent. R.R. Co. v. Hawkins, 830 So. 2d 1162, 1169 (Miss. 2002) (quoting Steele v. Inn of Vicksburg, Inc., 697 So. 2d 373, 376 (Miss. 1997)).

¶12. Illinois Central claims that there is no credible evidence to support the jury's verdict, and that the evidence overwhelmingly points in favor of Illinois Central such that no reasonable jury could have found for Travis. Thus, Illinois Central claims that the trial court erred in denying its motion for JNOV and that this Court should reverse and render. Understandably, Travis...

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