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DeKalb-Cherokee Counties Gas District v. Raughton

Supreme Court of Alabama

February 23, 2018

DeKalb-Cherokee Counties Gas District
v.
Timothy Raughton

         Appeal from DeKalb Circuit Court (CV-12-900024)

          SELLERS, Justice.

         In this personal-injury action, the DeKalb-Cherokee Counties Gas District ("DC Gas") appeals from a judgment of the DeKalb Circuit Court denying DC Gas's renewed motion for a judgment as a matter of law ("JML") or, in the alternative, for a new trial. We reverse the trial court's judgment and render a judgment for DC Gas.

         On October 10, 2011, the plaintiff, Timothy Raughton, an employee of the City of Fort Payne, was working at the city landfill. One of his duties on that day was to tell users of the landfill where to dump their refuse. On that same day, Neal Ridgeway, in his capacity as an employee of DC Gas, drove a dump truck to the landfill. The bed of the dump truck contained bricks and concrete blocks that had been collected from a site on which DC Gas planned to have constructed an office building.

         While Ridgeway dumped the contents of the truck at the landfill, Raughton stood next to the truck. He testified that he was standing there because the truck shielded him from the wind, which had been blowing dust in his eyes. At some point during the dumping process, the debris in the bed of the truck became lodged and would not fall out. In an effort to dump the remaining debris, Ridgeway performed a maneuver, which the evidence in this case indicates is commonly performed by drivers of dump trucks--he put the truck into gear and released the clutch, causing the truck to shake and to move forward slightly. As he was performing this clutch-release maneuver, the side wall of the truck bed fell from the truck, striking and injuring Raughton. There is no evidence in this case indicating that the clutch-release maneuver violated any formal safety standards.

         Raughton sued DC Gas, alleging negligence and wantonness. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of DC Gas on Raughton's wantonness claim, but his negligence claim proceeded to trial.

         When asked during the trial how the side wall was attached to the truck, Ridgeway testified that it "sits down in three or four standards on the side, and it's got a pin--It's got a pin at the front. I won't really say a pin, but it's got a way it attaches at the very front up there." There is no other testimony or evidence as to how the side wall was attached to the truck. There also is no testimony or evidence indicating exactly how the side wall became detached from the truck.[1]

         The jury rendered a verdict in favor of Raughton in the amount of $100, 000. The trial court entered a judgment on that verdict and denied DC Gas's renewed motion for a JML. DC Gas appealed.

"'The standard of review applicable to a ruling on a motion for [a JML] is identical to the standard used by the trial court in granting or denying [that motion]. Thus, in reviewing the trial court's ruling on the motion, we review the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmovant, and we determine whether the party with the burden of proof has produced sufficient evidence to require a jury determination.
"'....
"'... In ruling on a motion for a [JML], the trial court is called upon to determine whether the evidence was sufficient to submit a question of fact to the jury; for the court to determine that it was, there must have been "substantial evidence" before the jury to create a question of fact. "[S]ubstantial evidence is evidence of such weight and quality that fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment can reasonably infer the existence of the fact sought to be proved."'
"American Nat'l Fire Ins. Co. v. Hughes, 624 So.2d 1362, 1366-67 (Ala. 1993). (Citations omitted.)."

Acceptance Ins. Co. v. Brown, 832 So.2d 1, 12 (Ala. 2001). Questions of law are reviewed de novo. Pritchett v. ICN Med. Alliance, Inc., 938 So.2d 933, 935 (Ala. 2006).

         During the trial, Raughton proposed two theories of liability. He argued that Ridgeway, DC Gas's employee, acted negligently in choosing to perform the clutch-release maneuver while Raughton was standing next to the truck and that DC ...


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