State Supreme Court Reverses Trial Court’s Denial of Summary Judgment in Single Car Crash on Highway

In the early morning hours of April 19, 2010, Chantel Jobes was driving a vehicle alone and left the southbound lane of Highway 11, crossed the northbound lane and crashed into a concrete railroad trestle. Jobes was seriously injured and filed a lawsuit against the Norfolk Southern Railway Co., the Mississippi Transportation Commission and the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The trial judge denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Mississippi granted the defendants’ request for an interlocutory appeal and that court entered summary judgment in their favor.

Jobes was working at TGI Fridays in Hattiesburg, Miss., when she started her shift as the manager at 4 p.m. on April 18, 2010. She finished her shift at approximately 1:30 a.m. the morning of April 19 and then went directly to a 24/7 gym nearby to work out, which was her normal routine. After about an hour at the gym, she headed to a friend’s house to celebrate his birthday. She does not remember the party, but her friends told her that she “didn’t want to finish the cocktail drink [she] had,” and she wanted to go home.

Jobes left the birthday party and drove toward her home. The crash described above occurred about 4:42 a.m. on April 19. The weather was clear and dry, and the crash injuries were life-threatening. Jobes was driving with a suspended license and was legally intoxicated and also had prescription anti-anxiety medication in her system. Jobes testified at her deposition that she had worked 3 straight weeks without a day off up until the crash. She could not remember a time when she had been more stressed.

As a result of the one-car collision with the railroad trestle, Jobes suffered a fractured jaw, fractured right leg, fractured left leg, fractured right arm, fractured hip, fractured ribs, a collapsed lung and massive head injuries. On Aug. 22, 2011, she filed her complaint for damages against the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Norfolk Southern Railway Co. Norfolk was substituted with the Alabama Great Southern Railroad Co. as the properly named railroad defendant.

In the complaint filed against these defendants, Jobes alleged that suddenly and without warning she lost control of her car and collided into the northbound railroad trestle support, which was owned, operated and/or maintained by the defendant railroad. Jobes claimed that the crash was caused by the negligence of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the railroad.

In the following two years, the parties engaged in discovery, which included Jobes’s designated professional engineers and expert witness. According to the engineering expert, he was expected to testify that the “unprotected bridge pier” constituted an unreasonably dangerous condition, that the roadway under the overpass was in poor condition, that the lack of shoulders on the roadway rendered it unreasonably dangerous, that the railway overpass supports were unreasonably close to the roadway and that no adequate warnings were posted. However, just two months before the trial was to begin, the attorneys representing the defendants were notified by Jobes’s lawyer that the engineering expert was no longer available to testify as a witness at trial. This left Jobes with no liability expert. The two defendants filed for summary judgment.

The railroad argued that without an expert, Jobes was unable to establish any duty owed by it much less any evidence of any breach of any such duty. The railroad also offered in support of its motion for summary judgment the fact that an affidavit of transportation engineering expert from the Mississippi Department of Transportation had said that it was the duty of the department that had authority over the railroad itself. They also found that the Department of Transportation was responsible for the roadway conditions on and along Highway 11.

The Mississippi Supreme Court, although disagreeing with the Mississippi’s Department of Transportation’s position that its duty to maintain Highway 11 was discretionary, still found that Jobes must “show evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an essential element to [her] case” – should show that MDOT had a specific duty, it breached that duty and that the breach proximately caused her injury. Jobes, it was found, displayed none of those pieces of evidence to the satisfaction of the court. Furthermore, two of the allegations in Jobes’s complaint involved discretionary functions for which MDOT was immune.

As far as the claims against the railroad, Jobes claimed that it had a duty to warn of dangers and chose not to keep and maintain the railroad trestle supports in a reasonably safe condition, post adequate warning devices, undertake timely and reasonable repairs and failed to maintain a trestle support in a safe position.

The court said the problem with Jobes’s allegations against the railroad and its failings was that the duty to place warning signs and repair its railroad trestles was not the duty of the railroad, but had been relegated to MDOT pursuant to Mississippi law.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled that Jobes’s claims against the defendants failed because either defendants are immune from liability (MDOT) or because she has wholly failed to “show evidence sufficient to establish the existence of the essential elements” of her claims. Therefore, the court reversed the ruling of the judge denying the motion for summary judgment and ordered judgment in favor of the defendants.

The Alabama Great Southern Railroad Co. v. Jobes; 2013-IA-01261-SCT; date of opinion Jan. 22, 2015.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, train accidents, automobile crash cases, bicycle crash cases and truck accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Rolling Meadows, Westchester, Prospect Heights, Homewood, Justice, Country Club Hills, Burr Ridge, Buffalo Grove, Broadview, Brookfield, Blue Island, Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Matteson, Melrose Park, Midlothian, Morton Grove, Oak Lawn and Roselle, Ill.

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