By Phillip Rawls
AP Press Writer
From the Mobile Register
MONTGOMERY - The Alabama Supreme Court upheld a $6.25 million verdict against the Alabama Education Association, one of its employees and a trucking company for a wreck in Baldwin County involving a car driven by an AEA lobbyist in a rainstorm.
The verdict was the largest upheld by the state's highest court since Roy Moore became chief justice in January 2001.
In a 5-0 ruling that included the Republican chief justice, the Supreme Court said the large judgment was justified because the wreck left four people with life-threatening injuries that caused them permanent disabilities.
The case stemmed from a wreck on Interstate 65 in Baldwin County on June 16, 2000. Stephen Marth, AEA's manager of government relations was driving an AEA-owned Ford Crown Victoria north on Interstate 65 in a rain storm when he started to pass a truck operated by Hornady Truck Line. Martin crossed the median and struck a family from Alexander City headed to Mississippi for a family reunion.
The family members - Don and Sandra Meadow and their son Chantz - suffered severe injuries, as did a passenger in Martin's car, Mildred Dorman.
Martin contended the truck veered into his lane and hit him, causing him to cross the median. The truck driver maintained he did not get out of his lane.
A Baldwin County jury found Martin, AEA and Hornady at fault and awarded Don Meadows $2 million, Sandra Meadows $1 million, Chantz Meadows $1.5 million, and Dorman $1.75 million in compensatory damages. No punitive damages were involved in the verdict.
AEA and Hornady appealed to the Supreme Court, contending the verdict was excessive, but the Supreme Court disagreed in a decision written by Republican Justice Gorman Houston.
The Supreme Court said it was appropriate for the case to go to a jury because the truck was driving 65 miles per hour and Martin a little less than 70 mph when rain was standing on the highway.
Also, the court noted that Martin had been cited for speeding six times between July 1996 and June 2000, always while driving an AEA car and his license had been suspended once during that period.
"The AEA never provided Martin with any special driver's training and never cautioned him about his driving. Clearly Martin's speed was a proximate cause of this accident", Justice Gorman Houston wrote.
Martin declined comment Friday, saying he had not seen the ruling.
Hornady's attorney, E.L. McCafferty, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
The Meadow's attorney, Greg Breedlove, said the verdict was justified because the family faces continuing medical problems.
"It shows once again our jury system works," he said.
Breedlove noted that the verdict was returned in Baldwin County, which is considered a conservative county that is not known for big jury verdicts.
Signing the decision in addition to Houston and Moore were Republican justices Champ Lyons, Bernard Harwood and Tom Woodall.