Bay St. Louis attorney Brehm Bell has spent his career advocating for accident victims. But after more than 27 years in practice, one of his more recent cases proved to be the most challenging – in part, because of the pandemic.
The injured man found an ally in Gulfport personal injury attorney, David Pitre. The three insurance companies involved hired five law firms and were represented by six attorneys.
More than three years later, the victim finally had his day in court. Pitre enlisted Brehm Bell to join him for final preparations and the trial in this David vs. Goliath court battle. The two local lawyers were up against insurance companies that spent thousands of dollars on experts to challenge the claims for medical bills and losses suffered due to the wrongful actions of the hit and run driver.
Unfortunately, this was no work of fiction. The future of the injured plaintiff hung in the balance.
And even more lives were at stake because the trial took place in August 2020. COVID-19 raged, filling hospitals to the breaking point and killing thousands across the country each week. The Hancock County trial was the first civil jury courtroom trial to occur in the state since the pandemic began, and one of the first such trials in the nation.
After a weeklong trial that ended on a Saturday night, the jury came back with a $1.29 million verdict for the accident victim. The two attorneys had won their David-and-Goliath court battle. And in another kind of win, COVID precautions helped keep the trial safe for all participants.
“One of the amazing things about the entire process was the extreme efforts taken by the Hancock County Circuit Court to accommodate the trial and keep everyone safe,” said Bell.
Bell credits Hancock County Circuit Clerk Kendra Necaise and her staff with setting the safety standards. “It was through their efforts and the efforts of Judge Lisa Dodson’s staff that this jury trial was able to be held,” said Bell. “It was the general feeling of all involved that, despite the challenges presented by COVID, the wheels of justice must continue.”
According to Bell and Pitre, everyone in the courthouse was masked at all times, including attorneys, unless they were engaged in argument from the podium or examination of witnesses. Non-contact forehead temperature checks were conducted by security when anyone entered the only public entrance, and no one with an elevated temperature was allowed to enter.
Sterile masks were provided for anyone who needed one, as well as hand sanitizer. In order for the testifying witnesses’ faces to be seen by the attorneys and the jury, sterile plexiglass face shields were provided. Every night the courtroom was cleaned and sterilized by the courthouse staff. All jurors wore personal masks, and physical distancing was strictly enforced.
Attorney David Pitre stated, “I’ve never studied eyes in a trial so much in my life, since that was the only facial feature we could see.”
Both attorneys offered high praise to the jury members. The jury worked well into the evening each day and came in on Saturday to honor their civic duty.
“In our combined 60 years of trial experience,” said Pitre, “we have never seen a jury more focused during the entire trial.”
“This jury stayed hyper-vigilant,” said Bell. “They could not have been more focused, despite the challenges of the pandemic. It was really refreshing to see.”
Bell reflects on the final judgement.
“People need to be properly compensated for the wrongdoing of someone else,” he said. “Our client’s life was devastated. The jury saw that justice needed to be served.”