Judge’s order moves wreck case closer to trial

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – A June 17 trial start looms in federal court to determine if the city of West Point and a local nightclub are at fault in the vehicular injury of a drunken underage driver.
Thursday, U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock rejected defense arguments she should throw out the 2011 lawsuit against them.
Aycock said “genuine disputes of material fact” exist about the city’s liability and claims against MEC Inc., which owns The Pony, a nightclub and dancing-girls business just south of West Point on U.S. Highway 45-Alt.
Natalie Stafford, her son Richard’s conservator, sued them for the January 2010 accident after her son partied overnight with friends in West Point, visited The Pony and returned to their condo where guests continued to drink alcohol.
Before and after 5 a.m., West Point police arrived in response to complaints about a disturbance. Among others, Richard Stafford was ordered to leave.
Natalie Stafford claims her son called her, an officer refused to speak with her and then ordered the young man to get into his vehicle and drive home. The officer denies telling him that.
About 15 miles into his drive home, Stafford had a wreck and sustained long-lasting injuries. Two hours later, his blood alcohol level was 0.15 percent, more than seven times the state’s legal definition of intoxication of someone under the age of 21. The adult legal limit is 0.08 percent.
In earlier court action, Aycock ruled that the police officers were entitled to “qualified immunity” since no constitutional right was violated against Stafford.
Now the issue against West Point is if it falls under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The city claims is is immune from liability under at least two provisions.
As for The Pony, it contends Natalie Stafford failed to claim sufficient cause for the accident for it to be held liable, even if her son was improperly served alcohol there before 1 a.m.
Although no specific amount is asked for damages, it could be substantial if it were to include medical expenses, loss of wages and earning capacity, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, as well as attorneys fees and court costs.
Stafford is represented by the Michael Law Firm and Mitchell McNutt & Sams. Defense attorneys are Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, Gary Veazey and Hickman Goza & Spragins.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com