Mansfield v. Horner

Citation443 S.W.3d 627
Decision Date17 June 2014
Docket NumberNo. WD 76310.,WD 76310.
PartiesGail and Darrell MANSFIELD, Respondents, v. Caleb HORNER and John Horner, Appellants.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)

Daniel A. Thomas and Jonathan M. Soper, Independence, MO, for respondents.

Michael T. Moulder and Andrew J. Goodwin, Kansas City, MO, for appellants.

Before Division Three: MARK D. PFEIFFER, Presiding Judge, THOMAS H. NEWTON, Judge and CYNTHIA L. MARTIN, Judge.



Caleb Horner (Caleb) and John Horner (John) (collectively “the Horners”) appeal from the trial court's judgment (“Judgment”) in a wrongful death action awarding $8,650,000 of compensatory damages and $100,000,000 in damages for aggravating circumstances to Gail Mansfield (Gail) and Darrell (Darrell) Mansfield (collectively the Mansfields).1 The Horners present nine points on appeal, each of which argues that the Judgment constituted error in that: (1) the Mansfields failed to make a submissible case on the duty and causation elements of their claim for wrongful death based on negligence; (2) the jury's verdict awarding $108,650,000 to the Mansfields was not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the jury's verdict awarding $108,650,000 to the Mansfields violated the Horners' constitutional right to due process; (4) the Mansfields' lawsuit against the Horners violated the Horners' constitutional right to religious freedom in that the lawsuit required the jury to address the merits of the Horners' religious beliefs; (5) Wendi Nield should have been allowed to testify; (6) Karen Tadych's testimony should have been excluded as irrelevant; (7) certain pieces of evidence should not have been excluded from trial for the Horners' failure to follow discovery rules; (8) the Mansfields' counsel intentionally inflamed the prejudices of the jury and misstated the law and the evidence during closing arguments; and (9) the Horners' motion for remittitur should have been granted because Missouri's statutory cap on punitive damages applies to limit the damages recoverable for aggravating circumstances in cases involving wrongful death. We affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background 2

Misty Mansfield3 (“Misty”4 ) worked as a dispatcher for the Lee's Summit Police Department from 2001 to 2006. Caleb worked as a police officer for the Lee's Summit Police Department during the same time period. Caleb and Misty began seeing one another romantically and eventually married in 2004.5

Caleb participated in a religious group led by John. According to the teachings of this group, a wife was to be submissive to her husband, which required the wife to relent to the husband's decisions. In addition, the group practiced “faith healing” rather than pursuing modern medical care. Though Misty had not participated in Caleb's religious group before she and Caleb started dating, she was generally aware of the group's teachings before she married Caleb.

Prior to their marriage, Caleb and Misty agreed that any children would be delivered at home without professional medical intervention. Misty discovered that she was pregnant in March 2006. While she was pregnant, Misty attended a course that taught the Bradley Method, a series of natural childbirth techniques. Misty went into labor on December 2, 2006, and she, along with Caleb, followed through with their plan for a home birth.

Misty went into labor on December 2, 2006, but did not deliver her baby until December 8, 2006. Throughout labor, Misty's “birth team” was present: Caleb, Amber Leathers (“Leathers”), Wendi Nield (“Nield”), and Tina Moore (“Moore”). Leathers and Nield are Caleb's sisters. The Horners represented to Misty that Leathers and Nield were midwives. Moore was Misty's best friend.

At some point during her labor, Misty contacted Amber Walla (“Walla”), a doula,6 and asked Walla to come to the house. Upon learning how long Misty had been in labor and that the delivery was an “unassisted home birth,” Walla was reluctant to go to the house. Walla eventually agreed to do so “as a friend” and made it clear to Misty and her birth team that she was not there “as a professional in any aspect.”

Walla observed the shape of Misty's abdomen and noticed that it was “unusually shaped, like a big ball up under her ribs.” Walla also performed a pelvic exam

, during which she observed vaginal swelling and discovered what appeared to be meconium on her finger. Based on that information, Walla told Caleb, Leathers, and Nield that she believed the baby was in the breech position and that the situation was dangerous. Leathers and Nield argued that it was impossible for the baby to be in the breech position due to the “unity” between Caleb and Misty. According to their beliefs, “if the baby's husband and wife are in unity together, the baby will be head down.”

During Walla's visit, Misty agreed to go to the hospital. Misty stood up from the bed and was in the process of putting on her clothes so that she could leave. At that point, Caleb asked Walla to leave the room so that he and Misty could pray together. Soon thereafter, Caleb emerged from the bedroom and told Walla that he and Misty had changed their minds. Caleb said, [Walla], we're not ready to give up on this yet. We're just—we think it's early labor and, um, you know, my sister has said that she's had labors like this before and they've had meconium like that before and, you know, we think everything's going to be fine. We're just not ready to go to the hospital.” Caleb admitted that in his private conversation with Misty, he said, “Honestly, they're probably going to cut you open and take your baby.”

On December 8, 2006, the baby began to descend. The baby was in fact breech. The baby progressed through the birth canal posterior first and folded in half. When the baby became stuck, Misty's birth team began reading books to figure out what to do. The books indicated that an episiotomy

was necessary to complete the delivery. Caleb then cut Misty's vagina with a pair of unsterilized household scissors. The baby, a girl named Sydney Horner (Sydney7 ), was delivered stillborn on December 8, 2006. Sydney's cause of death was determined to be intrapartum asphyxia associated with a breech delivery.

The birth team did not call 911 immediately following Sydney's stillbirth. Instead they called John, a self-professed faith healer. John had not been present during Misty's labor or child birth. John came to the house and prayed over Sydney for hours in an attempt to raise her from the dead. Meanwhile, Misty's vaginal cuts were not sutured, dressed, or treated in any way.

The Lee's Summit Fire Department responded to the home after receiving a call regarding a stillbirth approximately nine hours earlier during a home delivery attempt. The purpose of the visit was to provide medical care to Misty. Caleb answered the door and spoke to Captain Timothy Schurder (“Schurder”). Caleb informed Schurder that the couple's religious beliefs prevented another man from examining his wife's vagina. Caleb also said that he would call for medical help for Misty if she needed it. Caleb did not inform Schurder that he had performed an episiotomy

on Misty and that those cuts remained untreated.

Following Sydney's stillbirth, Misty remained at her home with Caleb and members of his family, including John, Leathers, and Nield. The Mansfields visited Misty in the two weeks immediately following Sydney's stillbirth. They were never allowed to be alone with Misty. During that time, the Mansfields observed that Misty's condition was deteriorating. Approximately two weeks after Sydney's stillbirth, Caleb kicked the Mansfields out of the home. Gail was able to speak with Misty on the telephone thereafter. Caleb did allow the Mansfields to return to the home shortly before Misty's death.

On January 5, 2007, Misty called Dr. James Green (“Dr. Green”), a chiropractor she had previously visited, regarding her medical problems. The note Dr. Green wrote at the time of the telephone conversation with Misty stated:

Misty answered the phone and in an extremely labored breathing and voice said she had had a baby breech and stillborn and had been having problems since, and now has severe pain in her tailbone and pelvis and has been unable to walk for at least five days. I asked her when she had the baby, and she asked someone that was with her because she couldn't remember. Misty said the 27th. With her labored voice and tone, I wasn't sure if she meant the baby was delivered the 27th or she hadn't been able to walk since the 27th. I asked if she had been back to her doctor since the delivery, and she said she had not and had not sought any care and does not have a regular medical doctor. I told her that her symptoms sounded like they were outside the scope of my practice and she should go to the emergency room. She stated they really did not want to do that. I told her again that I did not think it was a problem I could help her with and she should go to the ER or, if she was unable to walk, then [call] 911. She said thanks for calling her back and they would decide what to do and then hung up.

(Emphasis added.)

Misty passed away on January 9, 2007. The Jackson County medical examiner performed an autopsy and determined that the cause of Misty's death was a severe infection that spread throughout her body and organs. The medical examiner noted that Misty's episiotomy

was never treated, and as a result, Misty developed sepsis. In a hospital, the wound would have been sutured and treated with antibiotics. Thus, according to the Jackson County medical examiner, Misty would have survived had she received appropriate medical treatment.

The Mansfields filed a wrongful death suit against Caleb, John, Nield, and Leathers.8 The petition alleged that the defendants were negligent in Misty's home birth and in the care of Misty following...

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    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • June 23, 2020
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    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • October 28, 2014
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    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • February 13, 2019
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    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • April 10, 2018
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