Jury finds for defendant second time in re-trial of '97 accident case

Amelia Flood May 21, 2010, 9:38am

A Madison County jury again ruled in favor of a defendant accused of negligence in a 1997 accident involving a middle school student.

It was the second trial involving Cecil Dial Jr., who was 11 years-old when he was struck by Bradley Joiner's SUV near Edwardsville Middle School. He suffered a massive head injury.

Joiner was accused of looking away from the road to adjust papers on his dashboard when the incident occurred.

Joiner denied that he was responsible for the crash, alleging the plaintiff, now 24 years-old, walked into his car while not looking.

Dial was seeking more than $1 million in damages, according to statements made by his attorneys Friday.

In the first trial in 2004, a jury also found in favor of Joiner.

"We're very happy with the verdict," defense attorney Stephen Mudge said following the verdict reached Friday afternoon. "A 13 year-old ordeal is hopefully over for Mr. Joiner."

Mudge expressed his thanks to the jury, some of whom spoke with Joiner after their verdict had been entered.

Dial and his attorneys did not wish to comment following the verdict.

Jurors heard closing arguments Friday after a week of trial.

Mudge asked jurors to be "truth seekers," and not to be confused by tactics he claimed were deceptive at the plaintiff's table.

"If you follow that, you won't be able to walk out of this court room and hold your head up high," Mudge told jurors.

Mudge argued that Cecil Dial Jr. had caused the accident by not looking when he crossed the street and walking into Joiner's SUV.

Mudge pointed to what he called inconsistencies in the plaintiff's case that included which lane of traffic the boy was in, how he was holding a project poster at the time and what Joiner allegedly said to the boy's mother.

Mudge implied at several points in his closing that Cecil Dial Jr.'s attorneys were employing "smoke and mirror" tactics to persuade the jury to look away from their client's role in the accident.

Disputes had raged all week at trial about where the boy was at the time of the collision and how Joiner reacted.

Mudge finished his closing argument with an emotional plea to jurors to find for his client.

"This has been a nightmare," Mudge said of the case, pointing to his client and the plaintiff's family in the gallery. "Let's put an end to this. Base your verdict on the truth, not on an attempt to deceive you."

Plaintiff's counsel Charles Armbruster told jurors Mudge was attacking him and his partner, Roy Dripps, because the case was clearly in their client's favor.

"For a week now, we've been in here and I don't think there's been a day that's gone by that Mr. Dripps' integrity or my integrity has not been criticized," Armbruster said.

He told jurors Mudge was trying to confuse the facts of the case because his client was at fault.

Armbruster pointed to expert testimony and urged jurors to remember that a child is not held to the same standard of conduct as an adult like Joiner.

"If you think Cecil Dial needed to learn something from that day, he's learned it a thousand times over," Armbruster said. "Apparently Mr. Joiner has learned nothing."

He told jurors Joiner did not want to accept responsibility for hitting the boy while he was distracted and urged them to find for his client.

The first trial lasted over a week. Jurors were sequestered in the case and at one point there was a move for a mistrial.

After the jury found for Joiner in 2004, then-presiding judge, former Madison County Associate Judge Ralph Mendelsohn granted a plaintiff's move for a new trial.

The appellate court agreed with Mendelsohn and sent the case back to Madison County in 2005.

The case has outlasted at least three judges including Mendelsohn, George Moran and P.J. O'Neill.

Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison II presided over the second trial.

The case is Madison case number 1998-L-899.

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