KANSAS CITY (AP) – An appeals court has affirmed a verdict awarding $1.18 million in damages from the Mormon church for a mowing accident 20 years ago in which a boy lost part of his foot.
Lamoni Riordan, who was 5 at the time, was injured in April 1985. A riding mower driven by his father, Ken Riordan – who worked for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – backed over his foot. The accident happened at a church in Kansas City.
Lamoni Riordan filed suit against the church in 2002, claiming that as his father’s employer it was liable. He also accused the church of negligence in maintaining the mower and in training and supervising its employees.
The church contended that the father’s parental immunity from a suit by his son also shielded it from liability. Parental immunity has since been eliminated by the Missouri Supreme Court, but it continues to apply to events taking place before Dec. 19, 1991.
A seven-member federal jury awarded the damages in February 2004. The verdict granted Riordan $420,000 for pain and suffering, nearly $81,000 for past medical expenses and nearly $683,000 for future medical expenses.
The damage award was upheld Friday by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Victor Bergman, a Kansas City attorney who represented Riordan, said the church had agreed to pay medical expenses for the first 15 years or so after the accident. He said Riordan sued after the payments stopped and the parties couldn’t reach a settlement.
“It was a straightforward case of negligence, and we never really understood why they didn’t see it that way,” Bergman said.
Mark Arnold, a St. Louis attorney who represented the church on the appeal, said yesterday that he could not comment on the ruling.
Bergman said his client, now married with children, lives in Grants Pass, Ore., and works in light construction. He said Riordan still suffers effects of the injury and that doctors have recommended additional surgery. Amputating the foot above the ankle would enable him to use newer types of prosthetic devices that would reduce his pain and make his leg more functional, Bergman said.
The appeals court said it believed that the Missouri Supreme Court, if facing an appeal in this case, would adopt the majority view it took in its 1991 decision that parental immunity is personal and does not protect a third party from liability.
The court said the father’s negligence resulted from the church’s “negligent failure to train or supervise him properly.”
“The jury verdict establishes not only the negligence and causation but the forseeability of the failure to train and supervise leading directly to the injury,” the appeals court said.
The church also argued that parental immunity is necessary to protect it from what it called “overwhelming” evidence of collusion by the father and son. But the appeals court said its review of the case did not convince it there was any collusion.
“Witnesses testified at trial Ken blamed himself for the accident from the moment it occurred, admitted the injury was his fault, and stated he did not realize Lamoni was behind him as he mowed,” the court said.
The court rejected Riordan’s cross-appeal on denial of the new trial he sought because the jury did not award him damages for future pain and suffering. It said the $1.18 million verdict fairly and reasonably compensated him for his injuries.
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