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Heflin v. Merrill

Supreme Court of Mississippi

November 6, 2014

CHERI W. HEFLIN
v.
STEPHEN MERRILL AND/OR THE ESTATE OF STEPHEN MERRILL AND NATIONWIDE INSURANCE COMPANY

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/14/2011.

Page 858

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI. COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JOHN C. GARGIULO.

FOR APPELLANT: NICHOLAS VAN WISER, MATTHEW G. MESTAYER.

FOR APPELLEES: JEREMY DALE HAWK, JAMES LEROY BANKS, IV, WILLIAM L. McDONOUGH, JR., NICHOLAS KANE THOMPSON.

DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE. RANDOLPH, P.J., LAMAR, CHANDLER, PIERCE AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR. KING, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY KITCHENS, J. WALLER, C.J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - INSURANCE

Page 859

EN BANC.

DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

¶1. The plaintiff in this automobile-accident lawsuit sued her underinsured-motorist insurance carrier. Even though the UM carrier admitted liability and agreed to pay any damages awarded at trial that exceeded available liability coverage, the plaintiff insisted on informing the jury of the insurance company's status as a defendant. The trial judge refused to allow it. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. Stephen Merrill crashed into the back of Cheri and Mike Heflin's automobile. Cheri sued Merrill's estate[1] and her underinsured-motorist carrier, Nationwide Insurance Company. Before trial, Nationwide admitted liability and offered to stipulate in writing that Cheri was an insured under its policy, and that it would be responsible for payment of a final judgment in excess of Merrill's liability coverage. Nationwide then moved to exclude any reference before the jury to its role, and to exclude any evidence that Cheri's car had underinsured motorist coverage. The trial granted the motion, finding that

[w]hether or not UM coverage exists is not relevant. And it's the court's opinion that introducing that issue along with the existence of Nationwide Insurance Company to the jury would potentially

Page 860

prejudice that jury as to a determination ...

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