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$700,000 awarded to Kentucky family for collision

Posted on Jan 11, 2007

Defendants appeal jury award By Calen McKinney, Staff Writer Two insurance companies are appealing a jury's decision to award more than $700,000 to a Campbellsville man for damages he suffered when his son was killed in a 1995 collision. Harlon Barnett, individually, and as administrator of the estate of Steven Ray Barnett, filed suit against Hamilton Mutual Insurance Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Caulk and Eastridge Insurance Co. of East Broadway in Campbellsville in Taylor Circuit Court on Jan. 4, 2000. EMC Insurance Co. was later added as a defendant. The lawsuit alleged that Barnett was entitled to damages resulting from the "bad faith" actions of the insurance companies. The suit stemmed from a collision that resulted in the death of a Finley teenager and four Campbellsville men. According to court records, Sixty-Eight Liquors allegedly sold beer to Phillip Matthew Colvin, 16, of Finley on June 2, 1995, before he collided head-on with another car. Colvin died in the collision. The other four killed were: Jeremy N. Clark, 19, of Hatcher Road in Campbellsville; Brent Murphy, 26, of Happy Hills Drive in Campbellsville; Kevin "Ace" Kearney, 25, of Wickliffe Avenue in Campbellsville; and Steven Ray Barnett, 21, of Willow Way in Campbellsville. Murphy, Kearney and Barnett were passengers in Clark's vehicle. Clark was the only one of the five men who was wearing a seat belt. According to autopsy reports, both drivers were under the influence of alcohol. In September 2006, more than 10 years after the collision and six years after Barnett filed his suit, a jury heard testimony in Taylor Circuit Judge Doughlas M. George's courtroom. Overall, the jury awarded Barnett $755,000 for lost legal costs, interest and investment income and punitive damages. According to court records, Barnett was also awarded $195,833.33 for his attorney's fees, making the total $950,833.33. Campbellsville attorney David Nunery represented Hamilton Mutual Insurance Co. and EMC Insurance Co. He said the claims against Caulk and Eastridge were dismissed just before the trial began. EMC Insurance Co. is a large national insurance carrier, Nunery said, and was added as a defendant in the case because it purchased Hamilton Mutual Insurance Co. in 1997. On Tuesday, Nunery said the case was appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals on Dec. 27. Nunery said he and the other attorneys involved in the case will begin the appeals process with briefs filed on several issues. The case will eventually be assigned to a three-judge panel, Nunery said, that will settle the issues by writing an opinion. If necessary, Nunery said, the case could be taken to the Kentucky Supreme Court for review. The appeals process, he said, can take more than a year. The appeal, filed by Steven Casey Call of Nunery and Bennett PLLC, cites numerous issues for the Court of Appeals to consider. Lexington attorney Austin Mehr represented Barnett. In September, Mehr said he thought the jury's decision was a good one. "These types of cases need to be brought occasionally to level the playing field with insurance companies who like to hold on to their money ... this company definitely owed $900,000 to [the Barnetts]." Mehr said Hamilton Mutual Insurance Co. wanted to play "hard ball" in its negotiations. "They did that," he said. "They got what they deserved." On Tuesday, Mehr said he will be contesting the appeal. Mehr said he thought George did an excellent job of ensuring that the defendants had a fair trial. "[We] think the decision is right," he said. "We think [the insurance companies] ought to recognize that they're wrong and pay the judgment."

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