'Mudslinging' barbs highlight closing arguments in Madison County injury trial
After closing arguments featuring accusations of "mudslinging," Madison County jurors deliberated for under three hours before returning a multi-million dollar verdict in favor of a trucker, his wife and employer.
Thomas and Betty Edwards originally sued fellow truck driver Gary Collier and his employer Millstadt Rendering Company.
The Edwardses claimed that Collier drove off of Interstate 55 in Ste. Genevieve County, Mo. in September 2007, causing part of the tanker he was carrying to come loose and end up in Thomas Edwards' lane of traffic on the other side of the highway.
The suit later included Thomas Edwards' employer, Slay Transportation.
The jury began deciding the case at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Deliberations would continue following a dinner break around 5 p.m.
Eric Carlson, the Edwardses' attorney, asked jurors for damages in excess of $2 million for Thomas Edwards, 66, and an unspecified sum for his wife.
Those damages, Carlson said during his closing, included more than $300,000 in past medical bills from the accident amongst other sums.
The verdict eventually totaled more than $3.5 million for the Edwardses and the amount of property damage Slay requested.
In his closing, Carlson told jurors that the case should have been simple.
"We have someone on the wrong side of the road at 3:30 in the morning," Carlson said. "This has gotten very complicated and confused. We all know that if the truck stays on the right side of the road, we wouldn't be here today. This has been a case about confusion. It's a case about let's see if we can confuse the jurors."
Carlson took issue with the defense contention that his client could have avoided the accident.
The defense argued throughout the trial that Thomas Edwards was tired and not seeing properly due to uncontrolled diabetes.
Carlson told the jurors that there was no evidence that his client's blood sugar had impaired his vision at the time of the accident.
The plaintiff's attorney dismissed the defense contention that tires on Collier's truck exploded and that his loss of control was unavoidable.
Carlson pointed to a lack of tire marks and physical evidence of a blow out.
He told jurors that Millstadt and Collier were trying to depict his client in a bad light in order to avoid admitting the accident was their fault.
"The defendants have refused to accept responsibility for being on the wrong side of the road at 3:30 in the morning," Carlson said.
Carlson pointed to testimony by accident reconstruction expert Nathan Shigemura and the testimony of the crash's investigator, officer Brent Fowler of the Missouri Highway Patrol, that he said vindicated Thomas Edwards of any wrongdoing in the accident.
Carlson also highlighted testimony by a defense expert, Tom Vadnais.
Vadnais testified that while he believed Thomas Edwards should have slowed down, he did not believe the plaintiff could have avoided the accident.
Slay's attorney Joseph Swift highlighted Collier's more than 19 hours on duty at the time of the crash and the lack of log books detailing what occurred before the crash.
Swift told jurors that they needed to consider Collier's fatigue at the time of the crash.
Slay's attorney went on to ask jurors to consider whether it was more likely the tires failed or a tired Collier drove off the road based on the crash's physical evidence.
"He drives off the road basically in a straight line because he doesn't steer," Swift said. "And he doesn't steer because he's asleep."
Swift argued that neither Millstadt nor Collier followed rules about shift time and that led into the crash.
Slay's attorney said he would put the blame what happened at 100 percent fault and that he did not believe his company or Thomas Edwards contributed to the accident.
Defense counsel Martin Morrissey took issue with what he called "mudslinging" by the plaintiffs.
"Who's confusing who?" Morrissey asked before taking issue with what he called the plaintiff's use of confusing tactics.
Morrissey told jurors the accident was "a case of circumstances."
"A lot of circumstances go into create an accident," Morrissey said. "That does not make people negligent."
The defense attorney said the case was simple in that it was clear the exploding tires caused the accident, not Collier's driving.
Morrissey also stressed tests in years prior to the accident indicating Thomas Edwards' diabetes was not controlled with diet and exercise.
Truck drivers whose diabetes must be controlled with insulin are not permitted to drive under federal law.
Morrissey stressed that Thomas Edwards did not slow down before the crash and suggested he could have seen the accident and hazard lights had his disease not impacted his vision or if he'd been wearing glasses.
"We didn't create diabetes," Morrissey told the jury. "It's a hard disease. It does affect reaction times and sluggishness. He wears glasses when he feels like it. He's an uncontrolled diabetic and he drinks water to pass (the driver certification test)."
Morrissey argued that there was no way Collier could have prevented what happened because it was the tires' fault, contrary to Shigemura's testimony.
Morrisey said the plaintiffs wanted truck drivers to "use their x-ray vision" to see internal tire defects.
In his response, Carlson denied "slinging mud," and pointed again to the time of the accident and the theory that the tires popped when Collier drove off the road way.
"We all know that if you take an 18-wheeler off the road at a high rate of speed bad things are going to happen," Carlson said.
The trial began last week.
Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis presides.
Eric and Jon Carlson represent Thomas and Betty Edwards.
Martin Morrissey and Dominique Seymoure represent Collier and
Joseph Swift and Michael Ward represent Slay.
The case is Madison case number 08-L-813.