The line is open. Close-outs:
* ILLEGAL EXACTION: Republican Rep. Jane English called with an attaboy for my item cheering John Brummett's questioning of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's practice of taking settlements his office wins for the state in class action lawsuits and spending the money as he chooses. English tried to pass legislation that required the money be placed in the treasury for legislative appropriation. McDaniel beat her, but threw the sop of some additional reporting on his windfalls. This all gets me to thinking: Is it constitutional for McDaniel to appropriate money he wins for the state of Arkansas? I don't believe, and English says her research bears it out, that judges who approve settlements always drill down to the purposes for which states use the money. They just divide it up. Remember the tobacco settlement? The legislature decided that. Can McDaniel really decide on his own hook to take a drug lawsuit settlement and spend it to fight Internet child porn? And, even if he CAN, should he? It's a violation of the spirit of the Constitution for sure.
* MOVING ON UP: NEWSPAPER JUNKIE SPECIAL: Old heads may remember Susie Ellwood, an Arkansas State grad who worked in marketing at the old Arkansas Gazette, and then moved up the Gannett corporate ladder after the paper's purchase and closure by Walter Hussman in 1991. Looks like she's next in line to be publisher of USA TODAY.
* $17 MILLION HIGHWAY WRECK VERDICT: Little Rock lawyer Philip Duncan sends a news release (on jump) about a $17 million jury verdict Friday in Lonoke Circuit court against a construction company over injuries to a Cabot woman who collided with a dump truck near a construction zone on U.S. 67-167 in 2008. The dump truck operator previously settled for $1.4 million, Duncan said. Duncan said the case is in the process of being resolved, meaning he expected a settlement without an appeal.
Friday night, June 3, 2011, at 9:30 pm, a jury in Lonoke County Circuit Court returned a verdict for $17 million against Weaver Bailey Construction Company, holding it responsible for a motor vehicle collision between a dump truck and a passenger car that left then-20 year old Ariel Anderson of Cabot with serious and permanent head injuries that will require life-long medical attention and management.
The collision occurred on July 18, 2008, in the southbound lanes of Highway 67/167 between Redman Road and the Highway 440 overpass near Jacksonville. Little Rock lawyer Phillip Duncan, owner and founder of Duncan Firm, represented the mother of Ariel Anderson on her behalf, and was assisted by Lonoke attorney Jerry Kelly. A well-known Denver attorney, who specializes in construction zone cases, defended the case for Weaver Bailey, along with Little Rock firm Barber, McCaskill, Jones & Hale. The case was tried over a two-week period before the Honorable Sandy Huckabee in Lonoke.
Around 10:30 on the morning of July 18, 2008, Ariel Anderson was traveling from her home in Cabot to her job at a Little Rock restaurant. A construction project conducted by Weaver Bailey Construction Company had been ongoing to widen the northbound lanes of Highway 67/167, but no construction had taken place in the southbound lanes at the time of the occurrence. Although a barrier wall separated southbound traffic from work being conducted in the median, the barrier ended without warning near the 440 overpass. Weaver Bailey had constructed an asphalt ramp approximately 200 feet long in the median near the end of the barrier wall, and this ramp was used to send dump trucks out of the median into southbound traffic. No warnings were in place at the time of the collision to instruct southbound traffic that the barrier wall ended and that dump trucks were entering traffic from the median at that spot. A sign warning the southbound traffic that trucks were entering from the median was placed at the site the next day by Weaver Bailey. The dump truck in question attempted to merge into oncoming traffic at approximately 30 m.p.h., and was approximately 18-24 inches into the left lane when the collision occurred with the vehicle driven by Ariel Anderson. The speed limit for southbound traffic was 65 m.p.h.
Ariel Anderson was airlifted from the scene and taken to Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock with life-threatening injuries. Emergency neurosurgery was performed shortly after her arrival at Baptist, and Ariel remained in a coma for weeks afterward with a doubtful prognosis. She was eventually transferred to the Wilford Hall Treatment Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas where she received cutting edge reconstructive surgery to her head, brain, and face. The Air Force surgeons and other medical personnel used their knowledge gained from traumatic head and brain injuries suffered by airmen and soldiers during the recent military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan to help with Ariel’s injuries. Although Ariel still faces more surgeries and life-long medical care, the verdict allows her to receive the continued treatment required to manage her condition.
After the verdict, attorney Phillip Duncan commented, “I’m very grateful that my client will now be able to obtain the care she needs. I appreciate the hard-work and dedication of my staff, as well as the assistance of Jerry Kelly to bring this matter to a close for the family. This case showed that highway construction zones can be very dangerous, and the contractors and construction companies simply have to make every effort to secure the safety of the traveling public. I am hopeful that we can take what we learned from this terrible incident and make something positive out of it by making our highways and highway construction zones safer for everyone."