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McDaniel v. Ferrell

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 21, 2017

WILLIAM A. MCDANIEL AND KIM MCDANIEL APPELLANTS
v.
WAYNE E. FERRELL JR. AND LAW OFFICES OF WAYNE E. FERRELL JR., PLLC APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/25/2016

         HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT, HON. HENRY L. LACKEY.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: WILLIAM LEE GUICE III MARIA MARTINEZ.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: JAMES WILLIAM MANUEL MICHAEL LELAND COWAN.

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., GREENLEE AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          LEE, C.J.

         ¶1. In this legal-malpractice appeal, William McDaniel retained attorney Wayne Ferrell Jr. to represent him as a plaintiff in the underlying personal-injury suit after he was electrocuted during the course of his employment. The Jones County Circuit Court dismissed the underlying action for failure to prosecute, and as a result, McDaniel brought a legal-malpractice claim against Ferrell for professional negligence. Ferrell moved for summary judgment, which the Hinds County Circuit Court granted, finding that McDaniel was the sole proximate cause of his injury in the underlying action, and thus could not succeed in the legal-malpractice suit. McDaniel now appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. McDaniel was employed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an air- traffic-system specialist and was assigned to the Jackson International Airport. On September 18, 2006, McDaniel was electrocuted while replacing a blown fuse at Runway 16L. As a result, he was permanently injured and disabled so that he could no longer engage in his employment with the FAA.

         ¶3. McDaniel engaged the legal services of Ferrell to represent him in a lawsuit to recover damages for his injury. On July 9, 2007, McDaniel met with Ferrell and created a memo detailing the events and circumstances leading up to his electrocution. In this memo, McDaniel described that for several months leading up to the day of his injury, the airport lost power to the approach lights on the runway every time it rained. This required McDaniel, who was often "on call, " to come in and change the blown fuse to restore the system. McDaniel attributed the blown fuses to the recent, faulty electrical work performed on the system. McDaniel noted that he usually had help in changing the blown fuse, and that he and his partner would "double check to make sure all power was off." However, on the day of the incident, his partner was on vacation, and McDaniel restored the system alone. He recounted that he was under great pressure to fix the system, and the high-voltage transformer was live with electricity and "went unnoticed" so that he did not power it off. As a result, when McDaniel attempted to change the fuse, he came into contact with a live wire and was electrocuted.

         4. According to McDaniel, he met with Ferrell and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of his case, and Ferrell told him that his case was a comparative-negligence case. In September 2009, Ferrell filed suit on behalf of McDaniel against Howard Industries Inc., Godfrey Systems International Inc., G.S.I. Inc., and The B.F. Goodrich Company (Goodrich). The complaint asserted that the electrical systems and services provided by the named defendants were defective and unreasonably dangerous, and were a contributing proximate cause of the accident and McDaniel's injuries. An amended complaint was later filed to include McDaniel's wife's complaint for loss of consortium.

         ¶5. In February 2010, Goodrich and Howard Industries filed answers, and Goodrich also served discovery requests. Goodrich obtained the FAA Accident Investigation Report, which confirmed that the particular fuse at issue had failed twice in the few months prior to the day of McDaniel's electrocution. The report also identified an issue with the installation causing increased voltage and fuse failure during a lightning storm and found that the electrical-system configuration was in violation of the National Electrical Code. Beyond this, little discovery or other action took place.

         ¶6. In May 2011, the Jones County Circuit Court issued a notice of dismissal, advising that there had been no action in the case in the preceding twelve months. In response, Ferrell filed a motion for a trial setting, but the motion was never set for a hearing. In June 2011, Goodrich moved to dismiss, stating that no action had taken place for thirteen months, discovery had not been answered, and only two of the four defendants had responded to the complaint. In May 2013, nearly four years after the complaint was filed, the circuit clerk issued a second notice of dismissal. Goodrich then filed a motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute, which was joined by Howard Industries shortly after. A hearing was held on the motion to dismiss, at which Ferrell admitted he had not discovered any evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Ultimately, the circuit court granted the motion, finding that Ferrell's admission, in addition to the pattern of delay and two notices of dismissal, warranted dismissal with prejudice. Ferrell did not appeal the circuit court's decision.

         ¶7. McDaniel and his son met with Ferrell to discuss the dismissal, and Ferrell explained that he was unable to identify any defective piece of equipment responsible ...


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