Defendants throw in 'kitchen sink' in move to toss $3 million verdict, plaintiffs say

Amelia Flood Jan. 20, 2011, 8:24am



The plaintiffs who won a more than $3 million verdict in a tractor trailer accident suit last year claim that defendants have "thrown the proverbial kitchen sink" into a post-trial motion that, if granted, would set aside the multi-million dollar award and send the case to its second trial.

Plaintiffs Thomas and Betty Edwards along with his employer, Slay Transportation, filed their opposition on Jan. 14 to the post-trial motion filed last month by defendant Gary Collier and Millstadt Rendering Company.

The post-trial motion was set for hearing Jan. 18, but was continued as Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis was set to oversee a personal injury damages trial.

The hearing will now be held at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 24.

The plaintiffs allege that after a lengthy, thorough trial, the defense is now attacking multiple aspects of the case.

"After one week of trial and the testimony of twenty witnesses, Defendants have thrown the proverbial kitchen sink into their post-trial attack on the Court's rulings and the findings of a jury of their peers," the opposition move reads.

"While Defendants may be oddly surprised that a jury found against them for being on the wrong side of the road at 3:30 a.m., no post-trial relief should be granted because the Court's rulings and the jury's findings were supported by the law and the facts."

Trucker Thomas Edwards and his wife, Betty Edwards, filed suit against fellow truck driver Collier and Millstadt Rendering Company two years ago.

Thomas Edwards was severely injured when his tractor trailer crashed into part of Collier's rig that had come loose and crossed the median of Interstate 55 in Ste. Genevieve County, Mo in 2007.

Edwards and his wife claimed that Collier, who allegedly worked over 18 hours on the day of the accident, ran off the road, causing the tanker he was hauling to come loose and to fly into Thomas Edwards' lane of traffic.

Slay filed to intervene in the case seeking to recover damage to its tractor trailer rig.

The defense countered that Thomas Edwards and his employer, Slay Transportation, were negligent because Slay allowed Thomas Edwards to drive despite suffering from diabetes.

The defense argued at the suit's trial that Thomas Edwards' diabetes was out of control at the time of the accident and that it impacted his vision and reaction time.

Millstadt and Collier argued that he could not have avoided the accident because his tires failed.

The suit's trial featured allegations of "mudslinging," two accident reconstruction experts; medical testimony about Thomas Edwards' diabetes and testimony about the accident by the crash's investigating officer.

After five days of testimony and a trial that spanned into two weeks, the jury awarded Thomas Edwards $2.5 million in damages, his wife $800,000 and Slay $110,863.08.

In their post-trial motion seeking a new trial, Collier and Millstadt argued that various jury instructions and testimony were improper.

The defendants took particular issue with evidence offered about the tires on Collier's rig.

While the defense produced two tires it claimed were central to the tire failure claim, Millstadt disposed of the tractor trailer and rest of the truck's 16 tires before trial.

The defendants allege that Madison County Circuit Judge Ann Callis' rulings about the tires essentially directed a verdict for the plaintiffs.

"The plaintiffs had the best of both worlds: the benefit of arguing Defendants destroyed evidence without the burden of proving a cause of action for spoliation of evidence," the motion argues.

Collier and Millstadt took further issue with the effect of the tires on the verdict, calling the evidence "zombie-like."

"This court dismissed the plaintiffs' spoliation claims pre-trial in light of the plaintiffs' request for the application of Missouri law, and then let the plaintiff raise the issue zombie-like as if reincarnated, during trial," the motion alleges. "There is simply no chance the jury would consider any of Defendants' arguments in this case once they learned the Court had determined Defendants had hidden and destroyed evidence."

In their opposition, the plaintiffs dismiss the idea that Callis gave them a de facto claim of spoiled evidence.

They cite the defense's lack of objections during mentions at trial and during the jury instruction conference.

The plaintiffs cite Callis' ruling that she would not allow argument concerning the failure to produce the tires but would allow arguments about the missing tires.

"Defendants make the straw man argument that this party neutral instruction resulted in a de facto directed verdict on spoliation of evidence and was some sort of 'end-run' around the dismissal of spoliation claims," the plaintiffs' motion reads. "This simply did not happen. Defendants' attempts to bootstrap this neutral evidentiary instruction into a verdict director on spoliation does not withstand scrutiny."

The plaintiffs also claim that the defendants made the tires relevant and an issue when they presented the defense case and cross-examined witnesses.

The defendants also take issue with the amount of the verdict, especially the $800,000 Betty Edwards received for her loss of consortium claim.

The defense alleges that Betty Edwards testified that the accident brought her closer to her husband.

In the Jan. 14 response, the plaintiffs argue the jury rightly saw how the accident gave Betty Edwards "a new life as Mr. Edwards' stay-at-home nurse."

The motion goes onto list Thomas Edwards' injuries, post-accident condition and how his depressed state has impacted his and his wife's retirement plans.

"Now, as opposed to traveling and enjoying retirement, Mr. Mrs. Edwards now highlight their days with trips to Wal-Mart and playing board games," the motion contends.

The motion concludes that after five days of testimony and 20 witnesses, the jury delivered a just verdict that the plaintiffs ask Callis to uphold despite defense arguments.

"Defendants may not like the result but the trial was a fair one, and the results were supported by the law and the facts," the motion states.

Eric Carlson, Donald Flack, Joseph Swift and Michael Ward represent the Edwards couple and Slay.

Martin Morrissey and Dominique Seymoure represent the defense.

The case is Madison case number 08-L-813.

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