Premises Liability is a term of art used to describe a type of lawsuit when someone is injured on another persons, or businesses, property. The owner of a property has certain duties to people who come on that property. For example, assume you are staying at a hotel which has malfunctioning elevator. The property owner knows about the problem but neglects to fix it or even bother to tell his customers about the problem. Then you, after a long day of traveling, take the elevator to your room hoping to grab a good night’s sleep only to have the elevator plunge several stories causing you to suffer serious bodily injury. The property owner had a duty to you, the customer, to provide a safe elevator. Because he breached his duty and it caused you harm, the hotel would be responsible for your harms and losses.
Recently, the Mississippi Supreme Court addressed two (2) premises liability cases on the same date. The two cases, Rebelwood Apartments v. Dwight English, et.al. and Double Quick v. Lymas, had both resulted in substantial verdicts for the Plaintiffs. In Rebelwood, the jury awarded $3,000,000.00 to the Plaintiffs and in Double Quick the Plaintiffs were awarded $4,000,000.00 but the trial judge reduced the non-economic damages amount to $1,000,000 due to the Mississippi Statutory Caps on non-economic damages resulting in a total verdict of $1,679,717.00.
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded (meaning the case will be tried again) the Rebelwood case. In Rebelwood, a young lady was found shot in her car at the Rebelwood Apartments. The Court noted that Rebelwood Apartments had a long history of criminal incidents in and around the property, which is a key factor in establishing liability. Jackson Police developed a suspect who confessed to killing the young lady at another location and then driving her to the Rebelwood Apartments. In other words, nothing happened at the Rebelwood Apartments.The trial court did not allow this evidence to go to the jury. The Supreme Court found that trial court committed error by not admitting this evidence. The Court also determined that the Plaintiff’s premises liability expert, Jackson Police Officer Tyrone Lewis, gave false testimony when he stated that there was nothing to indicate that the young lady was killed in a place other than the Rebelwood Apartments.
In the Double Quick case, the Plaintiff Lyman was shot in the parking lot of the Double Quick located in Belzoni, Mississippi. Jackson Police Officer Tyrone Lewis was once again acting as the Plaintiff’s expert witness. There was a huge dispute as to whether Lyman was the aggressor in the fight which occurred. The Plaintiff offered evidence showing that a “atmosphere of violence” existed in and around the Double Quick. Police reports showed that there were “14 fights, 33 thefts, 2 motor vehicle thefts, 39 either complaint or trouble calls” over the course of a five (5) year period. The Plaintiff’s experts stated that this “violent atmosphere” led to the Plaintiff’s damages.
However, the Supreme Court found that there was simply not enough evidence presented to show that the “violent atmosphere” caused the injury. The Court held that the testimony of the experts . The Plaintiff will not get a chance to retry this case.
What, if anything, is the Mississippi Supreme Court telling trial lawyers about premises liability cases? Deciding two premises cases on the same date may simply be coincidental or it may be signaling to trial lawyers that verdicts in premises liability cases will be much harder to hang onto in the future.
Charels R. “Chuck” Mullins has assisted clients for over 16 years. If you have a question regarding a premises liability case or any case involving serious bodily injury, contact him via his firm’s website.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.