DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/26/2013.
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: JONES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. BILLY JOE LANDRUM. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: BENCH-TRIAL VERDICT IN FAVOR OF APPELLEE.
FOR APPELLANT: K. DOUGLAS LEE.
FOR APPELLEE: STEVEN LLOYD LACEY.
BEFORE LEE, C.J., ROBERTS, CARLTON AND MAXWELL, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. JAMES, J., DISSENTS WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - PERSONAL INJURY
¶1. April Serrano claimed she was injured when the fluorescent light box attached to the kitchen ceiling of her apartment partially fell, causing patches of drywall to land on her. No one disputes the light box and drywall fell. But Laurel Housing Authority, the government entity that managed the apartment complex, hotly contested that it knew or should have known the heavy light box posed a danger of falling.
¶2. To recover damages, Serrano had to prove Laurel Housing had actual or constructive notice the light box was a dangerous condition. And to prevent Laurel Housing from enjoying sovereign immunity under Mississippi Code Annotated section 11-46-9(1)(v) (Rev. 2012), she had to overcome Laurel Housing's claim it had no notice about the danger her light posed before it fell.
¶3. As this was a bench trial, it was the judge who was tasked with sifting the conflicting testimony about Laurel Housing's notice that the light fixture posed a danger. And in the end, the judge concluded the testimony that Laurel Housing had no notice was more credible than Serrano's witnesses' claims that it did. Because there is substantial record evidence supporting this finding of fact, we must defer to it. We thus affirm the judgment in favor of Laurel Housing based on the immunity provided by section 11-46-9(1)(v).
¶4. After the light box and drywall fell, Serrano sued Laurel Housing for breach of implied warranty of habitability and premises-liability-based negligence. The circuit judge ordered a bifurcated trial. The issue of liability would be tried first. And if Serrano succeeded, her evidence on the extent of her damages would be presented after.
I. Evidence at Trial
¶5. The evidence presented during the one-day bench trial centered around notice. Serrano argued Laurel Housing knew the light boxes--with their four fluorescent light tubes and ballasts--were too heavy for the spot in the kitchen ceiling where they had been hung. Apparently, all units in Serrano's complex had at some point been renovated. And as part of those renovations, the same type of fluorescent light had been installed in each apartment. Though Serrano conceded that Laurel Housing had not installed the light boxes, Serrano claimed ...