CHARLES FAIRLEY, AS CONSERVATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES D. OWENS
TOTAL TRANSPORTATION OF MISSISSIPPI, LLC, A CORPORATION; AND WILL GATES, AN INDIVIDUAL
OF JUDGMENT: 08/01/2016
HUMPHREYS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. JANNIE M. LEWIS JUDGE.
COURT ATTORNEYS: EDWARD BLACKMON, JR. THOMAS S. MOORE OBY
THOMAS ROGERS ROBERT L. GIBBS CHARLES C. WIMBERLY, III HENRY
COOPER ELLENBERG, II MITCHELL DIAL MONSOUR, JR.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: HENRY COOPER ELLENBERG, II THOMAS S.
MOORE EDWARD BLACKMON, JR. OBY THOMAS ROGERS.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: CHARLES CORBETT WIMBERLY, III ROBERT
L. GIBBS GUY D. PERRIER.
WALLER, C.J., COLEMAN AND MAXWELL, JJ.
James Owens had been experiencing drug-withdrawal symptoms
when he wandered off his work shift onto a dark Louisiana
highway. Around this time, Will Gates was driving his
employer's truck, which struck Owens. Gates did not see
Owens, and the truck never left its lane of travel.
Owens filed a negligence suit in Humphreys
County, Mississippi, against Gates and his employer. The case
proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor
of Gates and his employer. After review, we find the evidence
supported the jury's verdict that Will Gates had not been
We also find no merit to Owens's claim that the judge
wrongly denied his request for a mistrial based on
Gates's cousin Abraham Gates, a justice court judge,
acting as a jury consultant in his case. This case was a
civil jury trial in circuit court, not justice
court, and all Owens can show is that Judge Gates sat in the
courtroom during trial. Like the circuit-court judge, we fail
to see any grounds for a mistrial. Had Judge Gates been an
attorney, he could have tried the case for the
defense. So his serving as a jury consultant-a role
that involved no direct contact or interaction with the
jury-was not prohibited.
Moreover, the circuit-court judge allowed Owens's counsel
to address the issue of Judge Gates's attendance during
voir dire. And the entire venire assured the court that any
knowledge of Judge Gates would not impact its ability to be
impartial. So the circuit-court judge did not abuse her
discretion when she denied Owens's motion for a mistrial.
Therefore, we affirm.
Facts and Procedural History
On September 23, 2013, Will Gates was driving an
eighteen-wheeler for his employer, Total Transportation of
Mississippi, LLC. Around 8:25 p.m., he pulled out of the
Folgers Distribution Center in St. Tammany Parrish,
Louisiana, onto Highway 434 where his truck struck Owens.
Owens was a temporary worker at Folgers who had walked off
his shift without clocking out. Owens testified he left
because he was not feeling well. But he had an admitted
history of illegal drug use. And his live-in girlfriend,
Aleisha Mills, testified that Owens had left because he was
experiencing heroin withdrawal. Owens had called Mills
multiple times from work. Mills testified Owens asked her to
bring him some heroin so he could make it through his shift
that did not end until midnight. When she finally arrived at
Folgers with the drugs, Owens had left his shift, exited the
Folgers facility, and walked onto the narrow, almost
nonexistent shoulder of Highway 434.
Gates's truck had only traveled a quarter to a third of a
mile from Folgers when it hit Owens. Gates testified that,
when he pulled out, no one was on the highway. Gates did not
see Owens before impact and figured he must have stepped out
in front of him. The accident report admitted into evidence
similarly concluded that Owens had stepped into the highway,
because Gates's truck never left its lane of travel.
Gates was traveling at twenty miles per hour when he struck
Owens. Owens presented an accident reconstructionist who
opined that, at that speed with proper headlamps, Gates
should have been able to see Owens for several seconds before
impact. Owens's theory was that Gates must have been
distracted. Owens's counsel questioned Gates about his
cell phone records, which indicated he had made a call within
a minute or so of calling 911 to report hitting Owens. But
Gates insisted he was not on the phone and had not been
distracted when the accident occurred. Instead, he had tried
to call a family member before he left the Folgers facility.
And only after she did not answer did he pull out onto
According to the accident report, that stretch of Highway 434
was dark. And Owens was wearing dark clothing. But several
witnesses-including Owens-said he had been wearing a
non-reflective, orange mesh work vest.
Owens survived but sustained a head injury. After initial
hospitalization, he was transferred to a neurological
rehabilitation living center. Through his conservator Charles
Fairley, Owens sued Gates and Total Transportation for
negligence,  alleging the collision caused permanent
injuries, including brain damage. Though Owens had a poor
work history before the accident, he claimed the accident
rendered him unable to work. His doctors also testified his
injury impeded his ability to fight his drug addiction.
While Owens was injured in Louisiana, he decided to file his
negligence complaint in Humphreys County, Mississippi, where
Gates resided. ...