The Supreme Court of Mississippi agreed with a lower court decision that the city was negligent in Stewart’s fall and therefore liable for damages.
Then the Supreme Court judges reviewed evidence submitted by Stewart to establish the amount of damages that should be awarded as a consequence of the fall.
The court noted that the defendant—the city’s driver—is “obligated solely to safeguard against reasonable probabilities,” but the defendant does not have to anticipate every injury that might occur. So the city, the judges reasoned, was only liable for damages that occurred as a “natural and probable” result of Stewart’s fall. A stroke is a medical condition and would not be an anticipated result of Stewart hitting her head from a fall. The higher court ordered a new trial to determine damages but said that Stewart should not be compensated for injuries specifically related to her stroke.
By the time of the Supreme Court ruling in 2005, Otha Stewart had died. Her daughter, Emma Womack, carried the case forward. In 2007, the trial court, which initially heard the case, awarded Womack $250,000 in damages—the maximum allowed—for her mother’s fall.
The city is appealing.
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Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.