Liable: County must pay for personal injury from deputy’s 2010 crash

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On Dec. 1, the Mississippi Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court’s decision that a former deputy with the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department was at fault in a 2010 automobile accident. In 2014, District 15 Circuit Judge Prentiss Harrell ruled against the county regarding the civil-personal injury suit filed by a party against the deputy for personal-injury and property damages caused as a result of the accident.

According to opinion from the Court of Appeals, deputy Joshua J. English collided with another vehicle while on patrol in Poplarville due to brake problems. “On an approach to a stop sign, English pressed the vehicle’s brakes to initiate a stop. However, English testified that his brakes failed, causing him to run through the stop sign,” the document states. The record shows that the brake-warning light in English’s vehicle had been on for weeks prior to the accident.

According to the accident reconstructionist, who investigated the scene of the accident, a lack of skid marks on the roadway showed that neither the regular nor emergency brakes were engaged immediately prior to the collision. English’s vehicle was traveling at a rate of 40 miles an hour as he was nearing the stop sign, according to the documents.

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Following the accident, the occupants of the vehicle filed the suit in the Pearl River County Circuit Court against Pearl River County. The occupants’ names were Janice Bethea, Jake Benefield, Gabrielle Benefield and Christine Benefield, according to the documents.

During the trial, the county declared immunity via the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, however, the circuit court judge found that immunity didn’t apply in this case because English “acted in reckless disregard for the safety of others by continuing to drive a vehicle that had been signaling that there were brake problems for several weeks and failing to properly resolve the brake issues,” according to the documents. The county appealed to the court of appeals, which agreed with the circuit court’s decision to make English liable for the accident.