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Trucking Accident Claims Depend Upon Properly Identifying Responsible Parties: D.P. Holmes Trucking LLC v. Butler

Aug 17, 2012 - Truck Accidents by

One of the most complex aspects of a serious or fatal Alabama tractor-trailer accident is identifying the responsible parties and determining who to pursue for damages. A truck driver, trucking company, truck leasing corporation, truck maintenance contractor and even the owner of a truck’s freight or the manufacturer of a rig may share blame for a serious or fatal accident.

Thus, properly identifying at-fault parties is critical when filing your lawsuit. In D.P. Holmes Trucking LLC v. Butler, the Mississippi Supreme Court examined whether a circuit court erred in allowing the plaintiff to amend his personal injury lawsuit to include Holmes Trucking. While Mississippi state law is not directly relevant in Alabama, such court decisions could still be looked at when establishing legal precedent in a negligent injury claim involving a trucking accident.

This case involved a 2006 personal injury claim filed by Lester Butler against David Holmes and John Does 1-5. Butler was later granted permission to amend the complaint to include Holmes Trucking. However, the lawsuit language substituted Holmes Trucking for Holmes. Butler later filed a second amendment to properly identify Holmes Trucking, without permission of either the court or Holmes Trucking. The trucking company promptly moved for a motion to dismiss or summary judgement. After the court ruled against the company, finding the amendment simply corrected a “misnomer” in the original lawsuit’s language, the trucking company filed notice of interlocutory appeal, requesting the state’s Supreme Court grant a dismissal with prejudice.

When a court grants dismissal, it may due so with or without prejudice. In many cases, when a lawsuit needs to be dismissed and refiled for various technical reasons, the court will dismiss without prejudice. However, when a dismissal with prejudice is granted, it means the matter is finished and may not be brought back before the court via another lawsuit.

The circuit court ruled the long-recognized legal doctrine of misnomer allows parties to correct errors of “party name” at any stage of the legal proceedings.The state Supreme Court found misnomer did not apply in this case because Butler had first sued David Holmes individually and was seeking to amend his lawsuit to include a new plaintiff, Holmes Trucking. Misnomer applies when amending the name of a party to a lawsuit in cases where the party remains unchanged (such as when a business is DBA or “Doing Business As”).

Rule 15 of the state’s Rules of Civil Procedure permits a plaintiff to add a party when “justice so requires” and leaves such decisions to the “sound discretion of the trial court.” The state’s high court ruled such an amendment could be made under the Rule but found the Plaintiff failed to comply with the rule’s requirements, in part by not again seeking permission from both the court and the defendant to amend the complaint. Consequently, the case was remanded to the Circuit Court of Copiah County for dismissal of the second amended complaint and refiling.

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