City Of Jackson on Notice, Did Nothing!

Posted on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018 at 7:04 am    

I wish I could say that what happened in the tragic Francis Fortner rollover crash in Jackson surprised me but having been a personal injury attorney for the last 15 years, very little does. People just don’t want to do right!

The bottom line, when people don’t take care of the things they should, people get hurt or killed. People and businesses want to cut corners and say “not my problem” and municipalities like Jackson, which are cash strapped, don’t have the means to hire conscientious, caring employees who know how to take care of business.

This will cost the City of Jackson $500,000.00. It would have cost more but the Mississippi legislature has unfairly seen fit to limit the amount of damages in cases against municipalities to 500k.   $500,000 pales in comparison to the lifetime earning potential of such a bright young lady and the loss of her life is simply un-quantifiable for her family.

Don’t kid yourself either, this is not just a “Jackson, Mississippi” problem.  No municipality or business is immune to incompetence.  And, Oxford isn’t either! A few months ago, I called the dispatcher at OPD to warn about a dangerous condition on highway six and was told something along the lines of “we’ve already called MDOT” but I still asked that they send someone out to warn drivers. I had to call back a second time before an OPD officer arrived to warn drivers. I do not know whether my first call was ignored or it just took a while for someone to arrive on the scene but in that time period, someone could have died.  Seconds and Minutes can really count in dangerous roadway conditions for obvious reasons.  And there is no telling how long the dispatcher knew there was a problem since she clearly knew MDOT had already been called.

When life threatening situations exist, the “we don’t do windows” or “that’s not our problem” or “we’ve called the agency responsible” attitude from public employees is PATHETIC.  And in this situation in Jackson Francis Fortner is DEAD because of it. Heads should roll in Jackson over this!

If you are a business person or an employee (public employee or otherwise) who is told about something that is a danger to the public or your customers, you better take quick action. Why not do the responsible thing and look after your fellow man by taking care of business?

Businesses and municipalities would be well advised to take heed.  In the Francis Fortner case, and the case of my getting a unsatisfactory response from a local dispatcher here in Oxford,  Doing “nothing”, even when a situation is outside the scope of your jurisdiction, department or agency, can and will get you sued sometimes.  The Bottom Line:  Don’t Pass The Buck Just Because You Can! It might get you sued and/or cost you your job.

I also see this “pass the buck, not my job” behavior in businesses.  The most frequent situation I encounter is when I am in a place of business like a store or restaurant and tell an employee about a slick floor or a spill that could cause someone to fall.  Sometimes, I encounter a conscientious  employee who jumps right into action.  Other times, I get a vacant stare from an employee who has no clue what to do.  Come on people!  Do your job! Help somebody!

In the Oxford situation, one can debate who’s responsibility highway 6/278 is, but I would argue that OPD, as the local agency on notice, might have had liability if someone had gotten hurt and they had simply passed the buck to MDOT.

Regarding the recent tragedy in Jackson: What’s more sad than a teenager about to hit the prime of their life dying in a car accident? The fact that it could have prevented if the city of Jackson, Mississippi heeded the warning of Kevin Curtis, who reported the unsafe conditions of the road less than an hour before the Jackson Academy senior was killed.

Curtis says he noticed the manhole cover “had fallen on one side and was sticking up, out of the ground”, and he called the Jackson Police Department who then transferred him to the Jackson Sewer Department. He says he told them about the manhole cover he noticed was out of place and got off the phone. Less than an hour later, the future graduate Frances Fortner hit the very manhole cover Curtis reported, which caused her car to flip. She died at the scene.

Whether the asphalt company that resurfaced the roadway or the city of Jackson is at fault, the fact remains that the city was notified of the potential hazard and had ample opportunity to survey the situation, but nothing was done. This is an outrage.


Here is the MS NEWS NOW article in full: JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) –

Less than an hour before a future Jackson Academy graduate was killed, a contract laborer driving down Ridgewood Road said he contacted the city of Jackson and told them about the road hazard that led to her death.

“I was riding up Ridgewood, and I noticed the manhole cover was — it had fallen in on one side and was sticking up, out of the ground,” Kevin Curtis said.

Curtis did the first thing that came to mind: he called Jackson police.

“After I talked to the lady [at dispatch], she seemed unconcerned. They put me on hold and then transferred me to the Jackson Sewer Department, I think, is what she said,” Curtis said.

He told them about the manhole cover and got off the phone.

Nearly 45 minutes later, 18-year-old Frances Fortner encountered what’s believed to be that same manhole cover, which caused her car to flip upside down.

Fortner died shortly afterward.

READ MORE: Jackson Academy senior dies in crash one day before graduation

That afternoon, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba visited the site for himself.

The contractor who initially resurfaced that section of roadway, Superior Asphalt, performed additional work after Thursday’s wreck damaged the manhole, but failed to put any cones around the freshly packed asphalt.

Lumumba had his security team do it instead.

While it’s still unclear whether the city or Superior Asphalt is at fault for causing that manhole cover to become a deadly hazard, Curtis says the city should have at least looked into the problem when he called.

“It definitely could have been prevented, had somebody just cared a little bit, you know, and radioed a police officer to go park in front of it until the city could come fix it. Completely preventable,” Curtis said.

Superior Asphalt spokesperson Kenny Bush said that they finished work on that section of Ridgewood Road months ago, but had to raise the manholes to the same height as the roadway, and finished that Friday

Bush said the contractor turned the road back over to the city of Jackson at that point.

Lumumba issued a statement about the incident after speaking to the Fortner family.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Miss Frances Fortner,” Lumumba said in the statement. “My sincere thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and classmates of this young lady whose life was taken too soon. We are conducting a full investigation of the accident. More information will become available pending the outcome of the investigation.”