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FIRST BANK OF SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI v. BERNARD C. BIDWELL

JANUARY 07, 1987

FIRST BANK OF SOUTHWEST MISSISSIPPI
v.
BERNARD C. BIDWELL



BEFORE HAWKINS, P.J., DAN LEE AND GRIFFIN, JJ.

DAN LEE, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

First Bank of Southwest Mississippi appeals a $20,000.00 judgment entered against it in the Circuit Court of Pike County.

On September 15, 1983, Bernard C. Bidwell brought suit against the Bank alleging a breach of contract and negligence.

 The complaint alleged that Bidwell and his father, B. W. Bidwell, on or about March 30, 1982 leased a safe-deposit box at the bank as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Bidwell alleged that after B. W. Bidwell died on or about October 12, 1982, the bank wrongfully allowed Shirley R. Dykes, B. W. Bidwell's roommate, to enter the safe-deposit box and remove the contents of the box. Bidwell sought damages in the amount of $79,168.00 and sought punitive damages in the amount of $20,000.00.

 At the close of the trial, a special interrogatory was submitted to the jury to determine the amount of cash in the safe deposit box. The jury returned the interrogatory, answering that there was $8,700.00 in the box. However, the jury also returned a general verdict for actual damages in the amount of $20,000.00. Defendant bank moved for a reconciliation of verdict and judgment to reflect a judgment in the amount of $8,700.00, then moved to amend the verdict to reflect an award consistent with the interrogatory pursuant to M.R.C.P. 59(e). Both motions were denied by the trial court.

 The Bank appeals assigning four errors, all related to its argument that judgment should only have been entered in favor of Bidwell in the amount of $8,700.00 - the amount of cash the jury found to be taken from the safe deposit box in its answer to the interrogatory. We do not agree, but we find the unique factual situation and obvious confusion present requires reversal for a new trial on the issue of damages alone.

 FACTS

 Bernard Bidwell opened a safe-deposit box with his father as a joint tenant on March 30, 1982. Their agreement was with First Bank of Southwest Mississippi (hereinafter the Bank), the defendant below. At trial Bidwell was granted a peremptory instruction to the effect that the Bank had breached its contractual agreement and had been negligent in allowing someone other than Bidwell or his father to enter the safe-deposit box.

 The only dispute on appeal concerns the amount of damages assessed against the Bank for the breach of its duties.

 Bernard Bidwell testified that he placed $8,700.00 in cash in the safe-deposit box on March 30, 1982, the same day he and his father opened the box.

 Bernard had wanted the box as a place to keep B. W. Bidwell's money while he was recuperating from a mild heart attack in Beacham Hospital.

 The Bank maintained a signature card for signatures of those seeking entrance to the box.

 The card reflects, and Bernard testified, that he entered the box only on March 30, 1982 when he put the $8,700.00 in the box, and on February 11, 1983, when he closed the box.

 However, the card reflects that B. W. Bidwell also entered the box on two different occasions; April 14, 1982, and May 12, 1982. Bernard testified that April 14, 1982 was the day the elder Bidwell was released from the hospital ...


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