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Carothers v. City of Water Valley

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 16, 2017

ARLENE CAROTHERS APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF WATER VALLEY, MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/19/2015

         YALOBUSHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. JAMES MCCLURE III, TRIAL

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: DRAYTON D. BERKLEY

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: MITCHELL ORVIS DRISKELL III

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., ISHEE AND WILSON, JJ.

          GRIFFIS, P.J.

         ¶1. Arlene Carothers appeals the judgment of the Yalobusha County Circuit Court wherein the circuit court found the automobile collision involving her vehicle and a City of Water Valley police car did not occur as a result of reckless disregard by a government employee. We find no error and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On September 5, 2012, Carothers was stopped at a traffic light when her car was rear- ended by a City of Water Valley police car, driven by Officer Marshal Jackson. Both vehicles sustained only minor damage and both were operable after the collision. Officer Jackson suffered no bodily injuries, but Carothers testified that she sustained injuries to her head, left knee, and hand. Carothers drove herself to the emergency room where she received treatment for a contusion (bruise) on her left knee.

         ¶3. Immediately before the accident, both parties were traveling in the same direction toward the traffic signal. The speed limit on Main Street was twenty-five miles per hour. Officer Jackson testified that he was driving ten miles per hour as he neared the traffic light. He estimated there was approximately one car length between his car and Carothers's vehicle just before the accident.

         ¶4. Officer Jackson testified that he looked away for one and a half seconds when he reached for his cellular phone. He testified that his two-way radio was inoperable, and he intended to use his cell phone to respond to radio traffic. According to Officer Jackson, Carothers's brake lights were not activated, and he did not anticipate her stopping at that precise moment. At the time of the accident, Officer Jackson was on patrol in the area. He was not in pursuit of a suspect, did not have his blue lights or siren activated, and was not responding to an emergency dispatch.

         ¶5. Carothers filed a complaint against the City seeking monetary damages for her injuries. In her complaint, she alleged that Officer Jackson's actions were negligent and evinced reckless disregard for her safety and well-being. Carothers further alleged that the City was directly negligent in its entrustment, training, supervision, retention, and hiring of Officer Jackson.

         ¶6. In its answer, the City asserted immunity as a governmental entity, pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated sections 11-46-1 to -23 (Rev. 2012 & Supp. 2016). The City also admitted vicarious liability for Officer Jackson's conduct, if he acted with reckless disregard. However, the City denied direct liability and reckless disregard by the officer. The City also filed a motion to dismiss Carothers's direct-liability claims. In its motion, the City asserted the prior admission of vicarious liability and the discretionary-function-immunity provision barred Carothers's direct-liability claim.

         ¶7. After a hearing on the motion, the trial court dismissed Carothers's direct-liability claims. On October 5, 2015, the vicarious-liability claim proceeded to a bench trial wherein the trial judge entered his findings of fact and conclusions of law. The trial court characterized the collision as a "fender bender" and found that the matter was a simple-negligence case. The trial court held that the claim was governed by the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA), pursuant to section ...


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