New Trial Ordered for Driver Who Dangled Kid

     (CN) – A father whose child was held over the edge of a bridge by a school bus driver is entitled to a new trial on his claims, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled.
     The April 16 opinion recites the 2011 incident under the heading “facts and procedural history.” It says Rachel Griffin was driving children home from school on Oct. 13 that year when she stopped the bus on a bridge, took Greg Barnes Jr. off the vehicle, and held him over the edge.
     Griffin and the boy then got back on the bus and finished the ride without further incident. The next morning, Griffin met with school superintendent Ike Haynes to discuss the incident, and she either quit or was fired, the opinion says.
     One year later, Greg Barnes Sr. sued Griffin and the Jefferson Davis County School District on his son’s behalf.
     Citing his son’s “nightmares, extreme fear and mental depression,” Barnes demanded $5 million.
     The county court ruled in 2013 that Griffin and the school board are immune from the lawsuit under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.
     But an issue arose involving employee handbooks used by the district. During discovery several different employee handbooks were discussed, but the existence of a bus driver’s handbook was not revealed until Griffin testified during the trial.
     Barnes appealed the trial court ruling, arguing the defendants contrived to hide the existence of the bus driver handbook, and that as a result, he was entitled to a default judgment and an assessment of damages.
     The trial judge held a hearing on Barnes’ post-trial motions and the defendants’ responses, and awarded the plaintiff a new trial, but not the sanctions he sought.
     The school board then admitted that Griffin was negligent and that it was liable for her actions.
     Barnes appealed the trial court’s denial of his request for sanctions against the school board for failure to produce the handbook.
     The Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed in an opinion written by Justice Ann H. Lamar.
     “The trial judge ruled only on the motion for a new trial, and he flatly refused to rule on the motion for sanctions,” Lamar wrote. “Barnes is asking this court to consider an issue on which the trial court has yet to rule.”
     Lamar also refuted Barnes’ assertion that the trial judge made a ruling on the case after recusing himself.
     “The record is clear that the trial judge granted a new trial and recused himself from that new trial,” Lamar wrote on behalf of the nine-justice court, affirming the lower court’s ruling to grant a new trial.

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