On November 30, 2012, an Adair County Jury gave a $14,666,667.00 jury verdict against the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission’s Department of Transportation and MoDot employee Larry Finley. The verdict came at the end of a week-long trial at the Adair County Courthouse in Kirksville, Missouri. The case was tried in front of the Honorable Russell E. Steele.
The jury assessed MoDot and employee Larry Finley with 75% fault for causing a severe traumatic brain injury to Ann Marie Ferguson age 42 of Kirksville, Missouri on July 26, 2008. At trial, Ferguson’s father and Court Appointed Guardian, Don McCoy, claimed that defendant Finley negligently operated a MoDot Dump truck on Route O near Novinger, Missouri by carrying a 25′ driftwood log in the back of the 16′ bed MoDot dump truck. The evidence showed that at the time of the collision, the dump truck’s tailgate was down and that there was no flag on the end of the log which projected out 9′ feet.
It was uncontroverted that Ferguson ran into the back of the dump truck but it was undetermined as to why. It was also clear that the tailgate and log crashed through the window of Ferguson’s GMC Safari mini-van. Ferguson suffered a severe diffuse axonal brain injury or (DAI) during the crash that left her permanently disabled. McCoy claimed that the end of the log is what caused his daughter’s injuries. He also claimed that had the tailgate been up, Ann would not have been injured. However, Gary Holtmeyer, attorney for MHTC and Larry Finley, argued that the end of the tailgate is what caused Ferguson’s injuries and that she was entirely at fault for running into the back of the dump truck.
At trial, McCoy’s attorneys, A.W. Smith, Brad Kuhlman, and Jay Benson, pointed out that having the tailgate down with the log extending beyond the bed of the dump truck was in direct violation of MoDot policies. Experts retained by the firms opined that there would have been a low probability of injury to Ferguson if the tailgate had been up. The jury took 3 hours before reaching the unanimous 12 juror verdict. $11,126,000 of the verdict was designated by the jury as “economic losses”, which are not subject to public official immunity or sovereign immunity caps and are recoverable through the Missouri State Legal Expense Fund.