Family wins appeal against trucking company New Prime in wrongful death case

By Takesha Thomas | Jan 18, 2019

SPRINGFIELD — A Missouri court has reversed a trial court's motion that dismissed a wrongful death case against trucking company New Prime.

On Jan. 9, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District, Division Two, granted an appeal made by the family of Kelli A. Wilson, reversing the matter and remanding it back to court after a trial court dismissed the wrongful death case filed by New Prime involving Wilson's estate.

The court agreed with the Wilson estate in its appeal that "the trial court erred in sustaining New Prime’s motion to dismiss based on Oklahoma’s ‘ghost tortfeasor’ defense."

The court found that the defense was a matter of obliging judicial notice, "and the trial court was required to apply it to the question presented by New Prime in its motion to dismiss."

According to the court filing, Wilson died in a 2016 traffic accident on an Oklahoma interstate highway. Wilson was a passenger in the vehicle that was driven by Jennifer Bizeau of Oklahoma. Bizeau's vehicle collided with a truck operated by an employee of New Prime.

New Prime is a Nebraska-based company with offices in Greene County, Missouri. Citing Oklahoma law, attorneys for New Prime had argued that Missouri was not the appropriate court jurisdiction since the accident occurred in Oklahoma.

The Missouri Appeals Court disagreed with the assertion.

Judge Daniel E. Scott, in his concurring opinion, wrote that "Oklahoma law likely applies no matter where this trial occurs, so the trial court should have considered it, yet neither party advised the court, which then cited Missouri’s much-different substantive law in dismissing the case. Our principal opinion could exhaustively detail other cases and authorities supporting the result we reach, but counsel’s commendable candor in the foregoing respects makes that unnecessary."

The trial court granted New Prime’s motion to dismiss in October 2017. In its order of dismissal, the trial court found that Bizeau and another party involved in the accident, James Kafer, were necessary parties because New Prime could not “as a practical matter” be accorded complete relief in their absence, court documents stated.

The trial court then directed the Wilsons to file in Oklahoma, and dismissed their petition citing that New Prime had no “opportunity or legal ability to bring into court either Bizeau or Kafer, as third-parties to Plaintiffs’ claim, because…[a] Missouri [c]ourt cannot exercise jurisdiction over Bizeau and Kafer.”

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