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Hawkins v. Heck Yea Quarter Horses, LLC

Supreme Court of Mississippi

August 2, 2018

CONNIE HAWKINS, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF GEORGE LEITH HAWKINS, III, DECEASED
v.
HECK YEA QUARTER HORSES, LLC, WALLACE HECK d/b/a HECK YEA QUARTER HORSES, LLC AND BRUCE HORN

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/13/2016

          HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JOHN HUNTER STEVENS, HON. JEFF WEILL, SR. TRIAL JUDGE

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: KEITH D. OBERT JOHN HUNTER STEVENS ROBERT P. THOMPSON PAUL PACIFIC BLAKE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JOHN HUNTER STEVENS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: PAUL PACIFIC BLAKE ROBERT P. THOMPSON

          BEAM, JUSTICE

         ¶1. On June 19, 2013, George "Leith" Hawkins (Hawkins), suffered a stroke while working at Heck Yea Quarter Horses, LLC (Heck Yea); he died days later. Connie Hawkins (Connie), George Hawkins's widow, sued Heck Yea and other defendants for wrongful death. The Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County granted summary judgment and the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed. Hawkins v. Heck Yea Quarter Horses, LLC, 2016 WL 9402885 (Miss. Ct. App. Jan. 13, 2016). We granted Connie's petition for a writ of certiorari to address whether the trial court and the Mississippi Court of Appeals erred in failing to take into account affidavits which create genuine issues of material fact with regard to the care Hawkins received at Heck Yea. Because we find summary judgment to have been proper, and the Mississippi Court of Appeals' analysis on the matter to have been correct, we affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County and the ruling by the Court of the Appeals.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On June 19, 2013, Bruce Horn-the manager of Heck Yea Quarter Horses-hired Hawkins to wash a wooden fence. After lunch, Hawkins complained of feeling ill. Horn stated in his deposition that he offered to call an ambulance, but Hawkins declined. Horn said he then transported Hawkins to a barn on the property in the bucket of a tractor's front-end loader and "[s]at him down in the shade in the rocking chair on . . . the porch of the barn, and got him a cold drink." Horn stated that he then asked Hawkins a second time whether he wanted an ambulance, but that Hawkins again refused. According to Horn, Hawkins also declined his offer to drive him home, recounting that Hawkins said "he was feeling better; he'd be fine."

         ¶3. Horn testified in his deposition that Hawkins left Heck Yea between 3:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. However, in a signed affidavit, William "Kevin" Thompson (a friend of Hawkins's) said that "sometime near the end of the lunch hour" on June 19, 2013, he "was traveling north on Interstate 55 near the Hinds/Copiah county line" and recognized Hawkins and his vehicle proceeding "in the southbound lane at approximately 10 mph." According to Thompson, "[t]raffic was backed up all around him and I thought at the time someone was going to get hurt." Although he did nothing to notify police or Connie Hawkins, or otherwise attempt to assist his friend, Thompson's affidavit expressed that he "knew something was terribly wrong with [Hawkins]."

         ¶4. Connie Hawkins stated in her deposition that she arrived home some time between 4:30 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. and found Hawkins's soaking-wet clothes on the kitchen floor. She then found Hawkins in the bed with the covers pulled over his head. Hawkins told his wife that he had passed out at Heck Yea. Connie stated that she asked why nobody had called her, but "never got an answer to that." Hawkins asked his wife to rub the back of his neck, which she did. Hawkins then requested a Tylenol, for which his wife went to his truck; when she returned, Hawkins had "gotten to the couch" and was "shaking and trembling and couldn't say anything." According to Connie, Hawkins then "fell off the couch, and from then on he never said another word and he was just shaking; all over his body was shaking and jerking."

         ¶5. Connie reported her husband's distress to Emergency Medical Services at 6:44 p.m. Hawkins died in the hospital on June 28, 2013, from a stroke.

         ¶6. Connie sued Heck Yea, Wallace Heck, Bruce Horn (Heck Yea Defendants) and five John Does for wrongful death. She alleged that Hawkins had been left alone "to tend to the fence, at which time he, due to the extreme heat, passed out in the field." She continued that Hawkins's coworkers "loaded his body into the front bucket of a tractor and drove him back to the barn, where they attempted to wake him by hosing him down with a garden hose." According to the complaint, Hawkins regained consciousness "but was incoherent and unsteady." According to the complaint, Heck Yea employees told Hawkins "to get in his vehicle and drive home," which he did.

         ¶7. In her deposition, Connie admitted to receiving the information about what happened to her husband at Heck Yea from Danny Martin, who "is a farmer and he cuts and bales hay for different people." Martin had not witnessed the events of the June 19, 2013. According to Connie, "Bruce Horn and his crew" had told Martin about Hawkins's incident.

         ¶8. Heck Yea moved for summary judgment, arguing that Connie's allegations were "based entirely on inadmissible hearsay and were unsupported by any admissible evidence." Heck Yea argued that Horn's deposition testimony proved it had not been negligent.

         ¶9. Connie Hawkins responded that Horn's deposition testimony had been refuted by admissible evidence in the form of an affidavit from Brad Goodman. Goodman stated in the following in an affidavit:

I had previously done tree service work for Heck Yea . . . . I was aware that George Hawkins was doing some work for Bruce Horn and Heck Yea and became aware that George Hawkins had been admitted to the hospital on or about June 19, 2013, and was in serious condition.
Within a day of this occurrence, I called Bruce Horn and told him that George Hawkins was in the hospital in bad shape and further asked him what had happened. Bruce Horn responded, "initially, I thought he was going to die out there." He further stated, "I guess 'Leith' got too hot and passed out. We gave him some water and assistance, but I sure thought he was going to leave here today."
I have personal knowledge of this conversation and know that this was Bruce Horn, as he identified himself on the telephone and I have his number in my telephone and recognized his voice. On at least two occasions, Bruce Horn stated that he knew "Leith" was in a serious medical state and he thought he was going to die. He never made any mention of contacting or calling for medical assistance, 911, or even calling George Hawkins'[s] wife, Connie Hawkins, about what had occurred on June 19, 2013, while George Leith Hawkins, III, was doing work for Heck Yea and Bruce Horn.

         Connie argued that "[t]his admissible evidence, admission against interest, from Mr. Goodman creates a factual dispute, making summary judgment improper." See Miss. R. Evid. 801(d)(2). In response, Horn denied ever having ...


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