Law School Case Brief
Perkins v. Star Transp., Inc. - 75 So. 3d 1065 (Miss. App. 2011)
The trial court is vested with considerable discretion in its authority to award sanctions for discovery abuses. An appellate court will reverse the circuit court's decision if it abused its discretion. An appellate court will affirm a trial court's decision unless it has a definite and firm conviction that the court below committed a clear error of judgment in the conclusion it reached upon the weighing of relevant factors.
On March 23, 2004, Brenda Burson Perkins was a passenger in a Toyota Camry driven by Nancy Fulgham. Fulgham stopped in the left-turn lane at a four-way stop at the intersection of Highway 82 and Highway 15, in Mathiston, Mississippi. When Fulgham turned south on Highway 15 and attempted to cross the two eastbound lanes of Highway 82, her automobile was struck by an 18-wheeler that was driven by Loraine W. Clark. The 18-wheeler was owned by Star Transportation, Inc. Both Fulgham and Perkins filed separate complaints against Clark and Star Transportation. The same attorneys represented Perkins and Fulgham. Both complaints asserted a claim for negligence and gross negligence. The claim for gross negligence alleged that "the negligent acts of omission and commission on the part of Clark were so gross as to amount to wantonness and were such character as to evidence a complete and total disregard for and indifference to the safety of the traveling public, in general, and of Perkins." Perkins's complaint asked for both compensatory and punitive damages. Clark and Star Transportation, through joint counsel, filed an answer to Perkins's complaint. Their answer admitted that the accident occurred but denied liability, either in general or on the grounds of insufficient information. Perkins moved for sanctions under Miss. R. Civ. P. 37(c) based on Clark's and Star Transportation's failure to concede liability in response to requests for admissions. The Webster County Circuit Court (Mississippi) denied Perkin's motion. The passenger appealed arguing that the trial court should have entered an order granting her attorney's fees, witness fees, and costs as sanctions against trucking company and truck driver pursuant to Miss. R. Civ. P. 37(c) for their failure to admit liability for the underlying motor vehicle accident in their responses to requests for admission, .
Did the trial court properly deny the motion for sanctions?
The judgment of the trial court was affirmed. The court of appeals' analysis ended when it determined that the trial court was correct to determine that the allocation of fault was a viable issue for trial. The trial court correctly concluded that, while the defendants' theory that the driver of the automobile in which passenger was riding was partially at fault in causing the accident was unlikely to be successful, that theory was not a frivolous defense. The issue of whether the automobile driver was partially at fault was an issue to be tried regardless of the fact that truck driver and/or trucking company denied or conceded their negligence. At the time they filed their responses to passenger's requests for admissions, they had reasonable grounds to conclude that automobile driver's negligence contributed, at least in part, to the collision.
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