A jury has awarded Laurie Holesapple and her family, West Plains, $6.7 million in a wrongful-death case brought against the Mo. Highway and Transportation Commission for the death in a traffic accident of her husband Joshua on April 22, 2013.
The trial that started a week ago today ended Saturday in Howell County Circuit Court in West Plains.
The two-vehicle crash was on the U.S. 63 bypass in West Plains while road construction was ongoing. Laurie Holesapple’s attorney, H. Lynn Henry, West Plains, said, “This verdict was more than triple the largest ever entered by a jury in this county.”
A police report filed at the time shows Joshua Holesapple, 32, was northbound in a 1999 Ford Taurus that was hit by a southbound 1994 GMC Sierra pickup truck driven by Preston A. Ary, 19, Mtn. Grove. Holesapple died later that day at Mercy Hospital in Springfield.
Testimony and evidence presented to the court revealed Ary was turning right onto U.S. 63 from Ramseur Farm Road and saw that his lane was blocked off with cones, resulting in his entering the northbound lane and the Holesapple’s path.
The judge in the case was 37th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge David Evans, West Plains. The commission was represented by attorney John William Koenig.
Koenig called an expert witness and several employees of the Missouri Department of Transportation to the stand to give testimony Friday. Each asserted they believed it was appropriate to exercise judgment with regard to which signs should be displayed in the work zone.
In an unexpected development, of the MoDOT employees called by Koenig, none of the eight maintenance workers or Lindell Huskey, the resident engineer for MoDOT’s Southeast District, were present.
After the trial Henry said, “I was astonished!” He said it was acceptable to infer that the absent witnesses would have had testimony that would have been detrimental to the defendant’s case.
Closing arguments began at 8 a.m. Saturday and ended shortly after 10. Henry’s closing was emotional and impassioned: “If instead of the money, there was magic and Josh could walk through those doors and ... stay only five minutes – long enough to say I love you and goodbye to each of them ... I assure you that Laurie, Larissa, Alli, Meagan, John and Patsy would gladly hand the verdict back to you, and give up whatever amount of money you may award them.”
Addressing the defendant’s case, Henry told The Quill, “It was a lame excuse.” He said called this a case about safety and doing the best to make sure this sort of tragedy doesn’t happen again. “MoDOT showed no remorse,” he said. “They showed no regrets and accepted no responsibility for their blatant disregard of the rules and their own traffic control plan.”
He said Koenig and the commission would not entertain settlement offers, including an offer for $409,123 he made back in February, nor did they ever offer to settle themselves. Henry said he offered to move the case to arbitration to cut costs for everyone, and they were instead determined to see the trial to completion.
Koenig told The Quill Monday morning, “We’re disappointed in the verdict. Right now we’re on the hook for $409,000.” He added, “It was a long week and I wish we’d have done better.” Koenig was referring to a state statute enacted by the legislature that limits how much money can be collected against a government entity.