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David Hawkins, joined by Jim Hunter of O’Keefe & Spies, won a $500,000.00 jury verdict in Campbell County Circuit Court against the Lynchburg Livestock Market, Inc. The trial lasted three days and David and Jim presented evidence for over a day and a half. The jury deliberated for approximately an hour and a half before returning a Plaintiff’s verdict.
The facts were that Jack Hammack was an independent contractor who was called to repair a problem in the Market’s scale house. To get to the scale house, Jack had to cross an alley where cattle traverse. On a sale day, which this was, the Market runs through approximately 2000 cattle.
After fixing the problem in the scale house, Jack waited for all cattle to clear the alley, opened the scale house door, looked left, looked right, looked left again, and, after seeing and hearing nothing, Jack entered the alley for a five foot walk across the alley to the catwalk. As he stepped out of the scale house door, a steer (which is a castrated bull) turned the corner and struck Jack in the stomach knocking him into the scale house door. Jack hit his head on the door jam and suffered a mild traumatic brain injury.
David Hawkins presented evidence from local expert doctors of Jack’s brain injury and Jim Hunter presented evidence to the jury from several lay witnesses who testified about the effect this injury had on Jack. The witnesses testified that Jack is not the same person he once was. Once a mechanical genius, Jack struggled after this injury to complete simple tasks.
The owners of domestic or wild animals are required to take notice of the characteristics and propensities of that animal. The evidence established that cattle could be easily startled and could turn back and run away from their handlers in a high stress environment like a livestock market. The Market is charged with that knowledge and should exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries from a startled steer.
David and Jim both argued that the Market could have prevented this accident had it simply exercised reasonable care to make sure that the folks on the premises were safe. The market is fully equipped with gates that close off the alleyways and David and Jim argued that the Market should have closed at least one gate behind the steer to ensure that, if the steer startled and turned back, Jack was safe in crossing the alley from the catwalk to the scale house.
The attorney for the Market claimed that Jack shouldn’t have been in that alley because he was old and slow. He also argued that Jack was contributorily negligent by not exercising reasonable care to protect himself from this steer. But the evidence from Matt Farris and Dwayne Gilliam, the owners of the Lynchburg Livestock Market, Inc., was that Jack didn’t do anything wrong. Both owners of the Market admitted this to David Hawkins on cross-examination.
After three long days of evidence, the jury deliberated for one and a half hours and returned a verdict for Jack in the amount of $500,000.00.