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J. B. CAIN, d/b/a BIG STREAM WELL DRILLING v. MID-SOUTH PUMP COMPANY

SEPTEMBER 26, 1984

J. B. CAIN, d/b/a BIG STREAM WELL DRILLING
v.
MID-SOUTH PUMP COMPANY



BEFORE BOWLING, DAN LEE AND PRATHER

PRATHER, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

This suit was filed in the Circuit Court of Tate County by Mid-South Pump Company against J. B. Cain on an open account. Cain counter-claimed for consequential damages incurred for replacement costs on faulty pumps purchased from Mid-South. From a directed verdict against J. B. Cain for insufficiency of proof of damages, Cain appeals, asserting that the proof was sufficient.

The question presented is whether testimony of a water well driller with 23 years experience as to the estimated cost of repair was sufficient to establish the amount of damages without the jury speculating, conjecturing or surmising.

 I.

 Mid-South Pump Company is a Tennessee corporation located in Memphis. J. B. Cain, d/b/a Big Stream Well Drilling is a sole proprietorship operating out of Senatobia, Mississippi. Cain, a water well-driller, was sued on an open account by Mid-South Pump for items purchased in connection with drilling and repairing wells. Mid-South's bookkeeper introduced numerous sales receipts proving that J. B. Cain, between December 11, 1978 and January 31, 1980, purchased $10,717.47 worth of goods from Mid-South. The difference between $10,717.47 and the amount sued for, $18,590.53, was the accrued service charges on the unpaid balance of the account. After introducing this evidence the plaintiff rested.

 Cain counter-claimed, asking for an offset in the amount of $5,600.00, which represented the amount of labor it took to repair fifteen wells which failed because the pumps, purchased from Mid-South, were defective. His claim arose from the consequential damages he suffered in replacing defective pumps which were warranted by Mid-South.

 Cain, who had been in the water well drilling business for 23 years, explained it takes a three-man crew two sixteen hour days to replace a well pump at a cost to him for each well of approximately $350.00 in labor and equipment. Each time a pump failed under warranty, Mr. Cain would take it to

 Mid-South in Memphis for replacement. The defective pumps had been installed from two weeks to three or four months before failure occurred. Cain named fifteen specific clients who had to have their defective well pumps or motors replaced. However, Mr. Cain was unable to provide specific dates on which the pumps failed or the exact amount of man-hours of labor it took to replace them.

 Cain stated that he would tell the Mid-South representative that he should be entitled to labor cost for replacing the faulty pumps and motors. It was admitted by Cain that he owed Mid-South approximately $10,717.47 for materials he purchased from them. No charge was made for replacement pumps. However, Mr. Cain further denied he should pay a finance charge on the outstanding balance of the account since such balance was in dispute, in that no allowance was made by Mid-South for the labor performed by Cain in replacing the well pumps.

 After hearing the testimony, the trial court concluded the proof presented by Cain concerning the cost of labor to replace the well pumps was insufficient as a matter of law, and would cause the jury to speculate as to damages. Therefore, the lower court sustained a directed verdict against Mr. Cain and damages were assessed as a matter of law at $8,590.53. II.

 Was the testimony of defendant, a water well driller with twenty-three years experience, as to estimated cost of repair of a water well, sufficient to establish the amount of damages?

 Obviously, a water well driller with 23 years of experience would qualify as an expert in the field and should be able to estimate how much it costs to replace a water well pump or motor. In Schoppe v. Allied Chemical Division, 418 So.2d 833 (Miss. 1982) this Court held that formal education is not the only means of becoming an expert in a field. A witness may qualify to give an expert opinion through his experience only. See also, Merritt v. Dueitt, ___ So.2d ____, (Miss. 1984); Early-Gary Inc. v. Walters, 294 So.2d 181 (Miss. 1974), to the same effect.

 The central issue of this case is whether enough evidence was presented by Mr. Cain to provide the jury with a reasonable basis for computing damages. For a general understanding of what constitutes a sufficiency of proof to sustain an award, we note:

 . . . [W]here it is reasonably certain that damage has resulted, mere uncertainty as to the amount will not preclude the right of recovery or prevent a jury decision awarding damages. This view has been sustained where, from the nature of the case, the extent of the injury and the amount of damage are not capable of exact and accurate proof. Under such circumstances, all that can be required is that the evidence - with such certainty as the nature of the particular case may permit - lay a foundation which will enable the trier of facts to make a fair and reasonable estimate of the amount of damage. The plaintiff will ...


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