Hyundai Motor America, et al. v. Applewhite, et al.Annotate this Case
This case arose from a two-car accident in Mississippi in which a Hyundai Excel was traveling southbound at a closing speed of 68 to 78 mph and, for reasons unknown, crossed the center line into the oncoming lane of traffic, striking a Lincoln Continental passenger car traveling northbound. None of the three Excel occupants survived the collision. This case made it to the Mississippi Supreme Court after an earlier appeal and remand for a new trial. During the remand proceedings, multiple discovery disputes ensued before the trial court ultimately held two 606(b) hearings on October 30, 2018, and January 23, 2019 (nearly four years after the trial court’s original denial of relief). The trial court expressly found that one of Applewhite’s counsel, Dennis Sweet, III, misrepresented his relationship with a witness, Carey Sparks, during the April 2015 hearing. It was not until a January 25, 2018 hearing, that Sweet admitted that he had paid Sparks to perform services during the Applewhite trial. This admission was made only after documents evidencing multiple payments to Sparks by Sweet surfaced in the discovery ordered by the Supreme Court. During discovery, multiple witnesses, including six attorneys, testified that Sparks stated that he had knowledge of discussions of the jurors during the trial. Following the 606(b) hearings, the trial court issued a one-paragraph order, finding that the posttrial testimony of the jurors offered no evidence supporting Defendants’ allegations. Reviewing the trial court proceedings, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded "a fair and impartial trial was not had." The Court found "overwhelming evidence of actual impropriety, which destroys any confidence in the jury verdict. The facts developed in this record threaten the public’s confidence in our system of justice. We find that this case is permeated by actual deception upon the trial court, which led to Plaintiffs’ obtaining a favorable ruling. Such improper acts of misconduct leave a indelible stain on these proceedings. We are loathe to overturn jury verdicts, yet justice dictates a reversal and a retrial, unencumbered by extraneous assaults on our justice system. We considered the ultimate sanction of dismissal of this case with prejudice. We decline to impose such a severe sanction, for no evidence suggests that any Plaintiff employed Sparks or had knowledge of Sparks’s actions. But the judgment must be reversed." This case was remanded for a new trial.