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Because he could have won, Arkansas attorney Jesse Boomer Daggett II has lost. Daggett, a Mariana, Ark., insurance defense lawyer, failed to perfect his appeal of an $800,000 jury verdict. The mistake appeared to have little consequence when the subsequent malpractice action filed by the carrier forced to pay the judgment was thrown out. But on Sept. 25, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment to Daggett in the malpractice case, concluding that had he properly prosecuted the appeal, he could have won a reversal of the underlying verdict. Southern Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co. v. Daggett, No. 02-804. Farm Bureau had hired Daggett to represent its insureds, James and Vaughn Knight and their company, M.H. Knight Farms Inc., in a negligence case filed by a Knight employee, Alfred Gammon. Gammon had alleged that faulty brakes on a company truck he was driving caused it to crash. After the Gammon jury returned its $800,000 verdict, Daggett appealed in a timely fashion, but neglected to file the accompanying record, causing the state’s intermediate appellate court to dismiss the appeal, meaning that Farm Bureau had to pay the judgment. Farm Bureau in turn sued Daggett for malpractice and breach of contract. Daggett persuaded the trial court to grant summary judgment in the malpractice case, on the ground that the appeals court would have affirmed the Gammon judgment. The trial court agreed, ruling that Daggett’s failure to file the record was not the proximate cause of Farm Bureau’s damages. Arkansas’ high court, however, saw it differently, ruling that if Daggett had perfected the Gammon appeal, the appellate court would have reversed. With Daggett in the ironic position of arguing that some of the original trial court’s rulings against him were harmless error, the high court held there were several reversible errors, including the trial court’s failure to allow Daggett to introduce evidence from the Knights’ mechanic and its refusal to permit Daggett to present evidence from an accident reconstructionist. Citing the trial judge’s accident reconstruction ruling, the Supreme Court said such rulings should be reversed only if “clearly wrong.” It added, “In the present case, the Phillips County court was clearly wrong.”

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