Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division
May 5, 2015
LARRY WILLIAMS AND LELA DAVIS, Respondents,
KAYATANA A. THOMPSON, Appellant
from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. Honorable
Michael W. Noble.
A. Thompson, appellant, Pro se, St. Louis, MO.
E. Paasch, St. Louis, MO; Joseph P. Sommer, St. Louis, MO,
E. MOONEY, PRESIDING JUDGE. CLIFFORD H. AHRENS, J., and LISA
VAN AMBURG, J., concur.
E. MOONEY, PRESIDING JUDGE
defendant, Kayatana Thompson, appeals the judgment entered by
the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis against her and in
favor of the plaintiffs, Larry Williams and Lela Davis. The
plaintiffs sued the defendant for personal injuries and
property damage, respectively, that they sustained when the
defendant's vehicle struck the vehicle operated by
Williams and owned by Davis.
eight points on appeal, the defendant challenges the trial
court's grant of the plaintiffs' motion for a
directed verdict, the weight of the evidence to support
Williams's claim of personal injury, the trial
court's personal jurisdiction over her, the trial
court's subject-matter jurisdiction over Davis's
claim, and prejudicial statements the trial court allegedly
made. Because we conclude that the trial court erred in
granting the plaintiffs' motion for a directed verdict
based on the rear-end collision doctrine, we reverse and
remand to the trial court for a new trial.
February 21, 2010, plaintiff Williams drove the car owned by
his mother, plaintiff Davis, to the market. Williams was
stopped at a red light on southbound North Florissant at its
intersection with Madison in the City of St. Louis. Another
car was stopped in front of him at the light. The light
turned green, but the car ahead of Williams did not move
forward. After waiting about 30 seconds for the car ahead of
him to go, Williams honked his horn, and the car in front of
him proceeded forward. Williams testified that before he
could take his foot from the brake to drive forward, the
defendant's vehicle collided with the rear of the vehicle
he was driving. Williams testified that he suffered permanent
aggravation of pre-existing neck and back injuries, and that
he incurred approximately $18,000 in bills for medical
treatment of his injuries. Williams introduced no medical
records or bills into evidence. Williams called no doctor to
testify. Williams further testified that his mother's car
suffered damage that cost $845.09 to repair.
defendant, who appeared pro se at trial, admitted
that her vehicle collided with the rear of the
plaintiffs' vehicle. She testified in the plaintiffs'
case as follows.
Q. Miss Thompson, you were driving an automobile on February
21st, 2010, on North Florissant?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did the front of your vehicle ever come into contact with
the rear of Mr. Williams'[s] car?
A. Yes, sir.
the plaintiff rested, the trial court gave the defendant the
opportunity to testify.
THE COURT: You are reminded that you are under oath. Please
have a seat.
Miss Thompson, can you explain your version of events of
February 21, 2010?
MS. THOMPSON: On February 21st, 2010, around about 1:30 p.m.,
going southbound on North Florissant and Madison in St.
Louis, Missouri, I was going to work. At the time there was
rain. The pavement was wet.
As I approached the street of Madison at the red light, there
was a vehicle right in front of me, which was Mr. Larry
As I approached him and as the pavement was wet, I tried to
stop, which I cannot stop. I blew my horn. When I blew my
horn, he did not move.
I tried to avoid from hitting him, so when I kind of just, I
don't want to say the word like swerved from to hit him
full, but swerve just to hit--to not swerve--I hit him in the
back of the trunk and collided with Mr. Williams.
At the time I got out and asked Mr. Williams, and I asked him
if I could make a payment 'cause I did not have
insurance. He stated to me that he could not, because it was
his mother's car.
The police arrived. The police asked for my driver's
license asked for his driver license and asked us if
we--asked me was I hurt and asked Mr. Williams was he hurt.
We both said no, we did not need ambulance to take us to the
hospital or no assistance.
Then I pulled over to the gas station to the right and which
the police took all my information and proceeded with the
questions for, of the accident.
To my knowledge I feel I did not injur[e] Mr. Larry Williams.
I just don't. I don't, I don't think
that--I'm not going to say I don't think, I know I
did not make these personal injuries for Mr. Larry Williams.
point, the plaintiffs' counsel objected, and the trial
court sustained the objection. The defendant had nothing
further to add to her testimony, the plaintiffs chose not to
cross-examine her, and the defendant rested.
plaintiff Williams and the defendant testified at trial. The
parties introduced no evidence of the speed limit on North
Florissant, the defendant's rate of speed, the distance
or time before impact once the defendant saw the
plaintiffs' vehicle, whether the police identified skid
marks on the road, or the length of any skid marks.
plaintiffs renewed their motion for directed verdict at the
close of all the evidence, both as to the claim for
Williams's injury and the claim for Davis's property
damage. The trial court granted the plaintiffs' motion.
The trial court stated:
[I]f they have hit all three of the elements that they need
to prove, and the issue in this case is negligence, the issue
is not whether the injuries occurred, it's this car
striking the other car, it's a very low hurdle,
they've met their burden, so I'm going to have to
grant the [m]otion for directed verdict.
trial court awarded $36,500 in damages to plaintiff Williams
for his personal injuries, and awarded $845.09 to plaintiff
Davis for her property damage. The defendant timely filed a
motion for new trial. She then filed an addendum to her
motion in an effort to add further grounds for a new trial
after the 30-day time limit for filing post-trial motions had
expired. Rule 78.04. The trial court denied the
defendant's motion for a new trial, and she appeals
defendant's first two points challenge the trial
court's grant of the plaintiffs' motion for a
directed verdict. We address these points together because
both present the fundamental question whether the trial court
properly granted the plaintiffs' motion for a directed
directed verdict is a drastic action, and the court should
grant it only when reasonable persons could not differ on the
correct disposition of the case. Garcia v.
Leftwich-Kitchen, 412 S.W.3d 348, 350 (Mo. App. W.D.
2013); Broeker v. Haid, 786 S.W.2d 615, 616 (Mo.
App. E.D. 1990). When reviewing a plaintiff's motion for
directed verdict, we must view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the defendant, giving the defendant the benefit
of all favorable inferences reasonably drawn from the
evidence, and disregarding the plaintiff's evidence that
does not support the defendant's case. Clark v.
Belfonte Distributing, Inc., 163 S.W.3d 581, 584 (Mo.
App. W.D. 2005). A negligence action that depends upon oral
testimony rarely presents a case in which the court is
justified in directing a verdict in favor of the party having
the burden of proof. Garcia, 412 S.W.3d at 350;
Duvall v. Smith, 950 S.W.2d 526, 527 (Mo. App. E.D.
1997). Justification exists, however, when the defendant in
her pleadings or by her counsel in open court admits, or by
her own evidence establishes, the plaintiff's claim, or
where there exists no real dispute of the basic facts
supported by uncontradicted testimony essential to the claim.
Garcia, 412 S.W.3d at 350-51; Duvall, 950
S.W.2d at 527; Broeker, 786 S.W.2d at 616.
rear-end collision doctrine recognizes that if one has his
vehicle in a portion of the highway where he should have it
in view of his course, and another person traveling behind
him in the same direction overtakes him and permits her
vehicle to run into the rear of the one ahead, proof of the
collision under these circumstances makes out a prima
facie case of specific negligence against the driver
operating the overtaking vehicle. Garcia, 412 S.W.3d
at 351; Duvall, 950 S.W.2d at 527. The doctrine
applies where the lead vehicle is stopped at a stop light or
stop sign. Id. The rationale behind the doctrine is
that the party in the rear vehicle has a view of what is in
front of her and can better explain why her vehicle struck
the rear of the car ahead. Clark, 163 S.W.3d at
583-84. The doctrine is similar to res ipsa loquitur
because the fact that the collision occurred "
bespeaks" the defendant's negligence. Id.
at 584. Time and distance available for the overtaking driver
are factors necessary in determining whether the overtaking
driver " permitted" the collision to occur.
Id. The doctrine establishes a prima facie
case, but does not compel a directed verdict.
Garcia, 412 S.W.3d at 351. Once the plaintiff
establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to
the defendant to produce rebuttal evidence. Id.
in the light most favorable to the defendant, the evidence
was sufficient to create an issue of fact as to whether she
exercised the applicable standard of care. The defendant
adduced evidence to rebut the plaintiffs' prima
facie case of negligence under the rear-end collision
doctrine, namely the road conditions and her attempts to
avoid the collision. The facts she adduced rendered a
directed verdict for the plaintiffs under this theory
inappropriate. The defendant testified that the road was wet,
that she saw the plaintiffs' vehicle, that she tried to
stop but could not, that she honked her horn but the
plaintiffs' vehicle did not move, and that she took
evasive action to try to avoid hitting the plaintiffs'
vehicle " full."
the defendant's evidence neither " bespeaks
negligence" nor supports an inference that she "
permitted" her vehicle to collide with the
plaintiffs' vehicle, the trial court erroneously granted
the plaintiffs' motion for a directed verdict.
See Garcia, 412 S.W.3d at 351-52
(defendant's evidence that her view was obstructed before
cresting hill, that she complied with speed limit, that lead
vehicle stopped on road although not at intersection, that
her vehicle left 149-foot skid marks, and that she had no
safe place to swerve to avoid collision sufficient to create
issue of fact as to whether defendant exercised applicable
standard of care); Clark, 163 S.W.3d at 584-85
(facts neither bespoke negligence nor supported inference
that defendant permitted collision to occur where he
encountered no icy roads before reaching the accident
location; he attempted to stop 100 yards before intersection
by applying normal pressure to brakes but truck did not
respond; and he tried to avoid collision by pumping brakes,
honking horn, and swerving). We reverse the judgment and
remand to the trial court for a new trial.
third and fourth points, the defendant challenges the weight
of the evidence to support the directed verdict for the
plaintiffs. In her fifth point, the defendant challenges the
weight of the evidence for the damage award to plaintiff
Williams. Given our determination that the trial court erred
in granting the plaintiffs' motion for directed verdict,
we decline to address these points. We deny the
defendant's third, fourth, and fifth points.
sixth point, the defendant claims the trial court lacked
personal jurisdiction over her because she was not properly
served pursuant to Rule 54.13(b)(1). The defendant did not
include this issue in her original motion for new trial, so
it is not preserved for our review. Rule 78.07(a).
Furthermore, the record reveals that the defendant was served
with a summons and the original petition on December 27,
2012. The defendant now complains that she was not personally
served with another summons along with the amended petition
that added Davis as a party and increased the amount of
Williams's damages claim. The defendant misconstrues Rule
54.13(b)(1), which governs personal service on an individual
within the State of Missouri. The rule does not require
issuance and personal service of a new summons upon a
defendant, who was previously served, each time that a
petition is amended.
were we to assume, arguendo, that service was
somehow defective, the defendant submitted herself to the
jurisdiction of the trial court by undertaking numerous
actions in the case, including answering the amended
petition, filing motions to compel, setting hearings, filing
a motion for summary judgment, and defending herself at
trial. With the exception of an objection to subject-matter
jurisdiction, if a party takes any action in a case that
recognizes the case as being in court, this amounts to a
general appearance. KNT Mgmt., LLC v. Flenoid, 419
S.W.3d 897, 900 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014). " In short, the
test of a general appearance conferring jurisdiction over the
person is whether the defendant becomes an actor in the
cause." Id. The defendant's sixth point is
meritless, and we deny it.
seventh point, the defendant claims the trial court lacked
subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate plaintiff
Davis's claim because Davis was not a party to the
underlying cause of action. The amended petition added
plaintiff Davis, who claimed property damage to her vehicle.
" Subject-matter jurisdiction" means the
court's authority to render a judgment in a particular
category of case. J.C.W. ex rel. Webb v. Wyciskalla,
275 S.W.3d 249, 253 (Mo. banc 2009). " [T]he subject
matter jurisdiction of Missouri's courts is governed
directly by the state's constitution. Article V, section
14 sets forth the subject matter jurisdiction of
Missouri's circuit courts in plenary terms, providing
that '[t]he circuit courts shall have original
jurisdiction over all cases and matters, civil and
criminal.'" Id. (alteration in original).
The defendant's seventh point is merit less, and we deny
eighth and final point, the defendant claims " the trial
court was prejudice[d] against [the defendant] when it
offered its opinion to state that [she] was winning at trial;
and sequentially [sic], discharged the jury before it
rendered a verdict, and entered a judgment for a directed
verdict in favor of Williams and Davis and against [the
defendant]." The plaintiffs point out that no such
statement appears in the record, despite the defendant's
citation to the transcript. The defendant then claims in her
reply brief that the trial court's statement occurred off
the record. The trial court made no such statement on the
record, nor does the transcript reveal any off-the-record
proceedings around the time that the defendant contends the
court made its statement. The defendant's final point is
meritless, and we deny it.
trial court erred in granting the plaintiffs' motion for
a directed verdict based on the rear-end collision doctrine.
Thus, we reverse and remand to the trial court for a new
H. AHRENS, J., and LISA VAN AMBURG, J., concur.
The defendant is entitled to a new trial as
to both liability and damages. Even if we were not compelled
to reverse the trial court for directing a verdict as to the
defendant's liability, we would have to reverse its
assessment of damages. The rear-end collision doctrine may
establish a defendant's liability, but it does not
establish the assessment of damages, which are for the trier
We deny all pending motions.