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LUTHER RAY HOLLINGSWORTH, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF & HEIRS OF RITA SUE HOLLINGSWORTH v. BOVAIRD SUPPLY CO.

FEBRUARY 27, 1985

LUTHER RAY HOLLINGSWORTH, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF & HEIRS OF RITA SUE HOLLINGSWORTH
v.
BOVAIRD SUPPLY CO.



EN BANC

DAN LEE, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

This is an appeal by Luther Ray Hollingsworth from a jury verdict in the Circuit Court of Wayne County in favor of the defendant/appellee, Bovaird Supply Co. This matter arises from a rural traffic accident in which Hollingsworth's

wife was killed when her car struck a pickup truck driven by Anthony Frasier while in the scope of his employment for Boviard Supply Co. On this appeal we are again asked to address the admissibility of an accident reconstruction expert. By today's decision we are announcing that Mississippi jurisprudence recognizes the significant advancement of scientific study in this field and the admissibility of such an expert's testimony.

 THE FACTS

 On December 22, 1979, at approximately 11:35 a.m., a collision occurred on Old Highway 84 in Wayne County between Rita Hollingsworth and Anthony Frasier. The evidence showed that the pickup truck driven by Anthony Frasier, in which his wife was a passenger, was headed west on Highway 84 and a 1977 Mercury driven by Mrs. Hollingsworth was traveling east.

 Frasier testified that when he first spotted the Mercury it was approximately 150 paces away. In his opinion the Mercury traveled 90 paces to the point of impact and his pickup truck traveled 60 paces to arrive at the point of impact. Mr. Frasier did not see the Mercury earlier because his vision was obscured by a curve in the road.

 According to Frasier, the Mercury began to cross the imaginary center line of the highway (there was no actual painted center line on Highway 84) and as it got close to the pickup truck, the Mercury swerved and came at the truck sideways, with its left side toward the pickup truck. Mr. Frasier testified that when he saw the Mercury crossing the center of the pavement he slowed and turned to his right in order to avoid the collision. He stated that he was traveling 30 miles per hour when he saw the Mercury but he had slowed to a virtual stop by the time the impact occurred. Mrs. Frasier corroborated her husband's version of the accident. Because Mrs. Hollingsworth was killed in the accident, the Frasiers were the only eyewitnesses to the collision.

 At impact both vehicles spun counterclockwise and the pickup truck came to a stop at or near the point of impact. Damage to the Mercury was to its left side from the driver's door to the rear of the car. Damage to the pickup truck was to its left front area.

 Constable Lamar West was one of the first to arrive on the scene. He testified that he saw a scrape mark on the highway that looked like the pickup truck's tire had

 blown out and the wheel rim had gouged the pavement. The mark extended outward from the left front wheel rim of the pickup truck which had come to rest on the south half of the road. The proper half of the road for the Mercury traveling east was the south half. The Constable also stated that he saw debris on the south half of the road but none on the north half.

 Sheriff Marvin Ferrior investigated the accident. He testified that he did not see gouge marks on the blacktop. All evidence indicated that it had been raining at the time of the accident.

 Luther Hollingsworth, Mrs. Hollingsworth's husband, testified that he visited the scene at about 3:00 p.m. the day of the accident. He stated that he observed a gouge mark in the pavement from a little bit south of the center of the road up to the left front wheel of the pickup truck.

 At trial, Hollingsworth's attorney attempted to offer the testimony of Albert Medina, a traffic accident consultant. The record established that Mr. Medina is highly educated and experienced in traffic accident reconstruction both from theoretical and practical training. Among Mr. Medina's qualifications are the rank of instructor at the Traffic Institute, Northwestern University, vast experience in police department investigating and reconstructing traffic accidents, experience gained at the Ford, General Motors and Chrysler Proving Grounds, and in teaching traffic accident reconstruction in approximately thirty-five states. Mr. Medina has also graduated courses in mathematics and vehicle dynamics, fields of study essential to the understanding of the reaction of vehicles when eccentric force is applied to them.

 The circuit court sustained objections to questions intended to lay the foundation for Mr. Medina's status as an expert witness. On proffer, Mr. Medina testified that based on his education, experience and investigation, the point of impact was on the south side of Highway 84. This was the proper portion of the road for Mrs. Hollingsworth's eastbound Mercury.

 Mr. Medina stated that if he assumed Mr. Frasier's testimony as true, that is, the pickup truck was almost stopped at the north edge of the road and darted northward to avoid the collision, there would have been no way the vehicles could have come to rest the way they did. According to Mr. Medina, if Mr. Frasier's description was accurate, the pickup truck would have come to rest off the road on

 the north side.

 Without the benefit of Mr. Medina's testimony the jury returned a verdict for the defense. It is from that verdict that Mr. Hollingsworth brings this appeal.

 THE LAW

 The law must be both a stable and a dynamic thing. It must be stable so that we, as citizens, are able to understand it, to stay within its confines and to predict its reaction. Stability contributes respect for the law and the notion that all who come under it are treated equally. Stability in the pronouncement of legal doctrine must be as reliable as the surf which pounds against a rocky coast. Nevertheless, just as the surf will eventually redefine that rocky coast, the law cannot remain unchanged against waves of reason and progress. As stability brings respect ...


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