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Rushing v. Mobile Forest Products, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 6, 2019

DENNIS STEVEN RUSHING, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF DENNIS HOUSTON RUSHING, DECEASED APPELLANT
v.
MOBILE FOREST PRODUCTS, INC., AN ALABAMA CORPORATION AND DASON ARRINGTON APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/19/2017

          GREENE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. KATHY KING JACKSON JUDGE.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: WAYNE DOWDY DUNBAR DOWDY WATT.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: J. STEPHEN KENNEDY SAMUEL DEUCALION GREGORY.

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., TINDELL AND LAWRENCE, JJ.

          LAWRENCE, J.

         ¶1. This case involves the tragic death of Dennis Houston Rushing (Dennis), who was a paramedic riding as a passenger in an ambulance when it crashed into an eighteen wheeler. Dennis's father, Steven Rushing (Steven), brought a wrongful-death lawsuit against Charles Bexley (the driver of the eighteen wheeler) and his employer, Henderson Timber Felling Inc. (Henderson). Steven later added two other defendants to the suit-Dason Arrington (the driver of the eighteen wheeler following Bexley) and his employer, Mobile Forest Products Inc. (Mobile Forest). Before trial, Steven settled his claims against Bexley and Henderson. Following a trial, the jury found that Arrington was not negligent. Steven appeals, arguing that (1) the circuit court erred in admitting the ambulance driver's blood-test results into evidence; and (2) the circuit court erred in denying jury instruction P-5. Finding the circuit court acted within its discretion, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On June 24, 2014, Bexley was driving an eighteen wheeler northbound on Highway 63 in Greene County.[1] Arrington was driving another eighteen wheeler behind Bexley.[2]Bexley planned to make a left turn, so he used his CB radio to notify Arrington. Bexley then put on his left blinker and slowed down in anticipation of the turn. Arrington also began to slow down.

         ¶3. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Bexley or Arrington, William Smith was driving an ambulance on Highway 63 and was quickly approaching both eighteen wheelers in the northbound lane. Smith and his passenger, Dennis, were both paramedics traveling to an elderly woman's home.[3] Smith was driving over the speed limit (55 miles per hour) at a rate of 75 miles per hour. As Smith approached both eighteen wheelers, he attempted to pass them by switching to the southbound lane. However, Bexley had already begun making his left turn. The ambulance struck Bexley's eighteen wheeler on its front-left side near the fuel tank and caught fire on impact. Both Smith and Dennis died from the fiery crash. Arrington's eighteen wheeler was not involved in the collision.

         ¶4. On August 11, 2014, Steven, Dennis's father and administrator of his estate, brought a negligence suit against Bexley and Henderson. Steven amended the complaint on May 19, 2015, adding Arrington and Mobile Forest. Steven claimed that Arrington was negligent for failing to come to a stop on the right side of the road when the ambulance passed Arrington in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 63-3-809(1) (Rev. 2013). He also claimed that Arrington failed to comply with Mississippi Code Annotated section 63-3-619(2) (Rev. 2013), which requires a driver of a motor truck to maintain at least a 300-feet distance behind another motor truck. Before trial, Steven settled his claims against Bexley and Henderson.

         ¶5. At trial, Arrington testified that Bexley radioed him when they were near the Piave Baptist Church. He also testified that he was about one car length behind Bexley at that time. As Bexley started to slow down, Arrington distanced himself even more-about the length of an eighteen wheeler. Arrington testified that he was at least one hundred yards (300 feet) from Bexley's eighteen wheeler before the accident happened. Arrington never heard sirens and did not see the ambulance approaching.[4]

         ¶6. Dr. John Stevenson, an employee at the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory, was admitted as an expert in forensic toxicology and the testing of blood samples and called as a defense witness. He testified that he received Smith's and Dennis's blood samples from the State Medical Examiner's Office after the accident. Dr. Stevenson testified that the blood sample from Smith, the ambulance driver, tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine.

         ¶7. Ultimately, the jury found that Arrington was not negligent and returned a ...


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