A key legal victory transformed a Kansas warehouse injury into a case tried in Jackson County, Mo., under Missouri substantive law, free from Kansas’ caps on non-economic damages. Scott Nutter tried the week-long case to a $1.5 million verdict.
Our client, a longtime employee of a Kansas City, Kan., warehouse, was helping load a truck when the truck rolled forward, causing her to fall and suffer a spiral fracture of her femur. Even though it was a workplace injury, the case was free of workers’ compensation, because the truck was owned by a Missouri flooring company, allowing the third-party negligence claim. The truck’s driver, a Missouri resident, had failed to place blocks under the wheels, failed to put the truck in proper gear, and failed to set the parking brake.
The decision to file the case in Missouri was critical. Had the case been filed in Kansas, Kansas substantive law would have applied, because Kansas applies the law of the location of the accident – lex loci delicti. Kansas law would have had several disadvantages:
- Limit on noneconomic damages to $250,000 statutory cap;
- The defendant could allege fault against our client’s co-workers and employer, who were not parties to the case and immune from tort claims because of workers compensation; and
- A risk that our client could be completely barred from recovery if the jury found her 50 percent or more at fault.
Instead, by filing the case in Independence, Mo., Missouri’s choice of law analysis applied, requiring the court to determine which state had the “most significant relationship” to the matter. When two or more states have significant relationships, the analysis focuses on the states’ governmental interests in the case. With a Missouri plaintiff and Missouri defendants, the Court correctly determined that Missouri law should apply, despite the accident occurring in Kansas, because Kansas had no interest in a case involving Missouri parties.
The defendants increased their offers from $150,000 at mediation, to $600,000 a week before trial, $800,000 three days before trial, and $900,000 on the first morning of trial. But the plaintiff held firm in demanding $1 million. The trial featured testimony from a trucking expert stating that properly securing the truck before loading it would have prevented the accident. Defendants employed a warehouse safety expert to argue that our client was at fault for the methods she and her co-workers used to load the truck. Both sides also called experts in vocational rehabilitation, life care planning, and economics.
By stipulation, the amount of our client’s medical bills, about $268,000, and the amount paid, about $141,000, both went to the jury. The jury returned with an un-itemized verdict of $1,565,625 with 25 percent fault assessed to our client, resulting in an approximate judgment of $1.17 million. We would like to thank our co-counsel, Brianne Niemann, for her assistance in the case.