A jury has returned a whopping $1.25 million civil award in Jackson County Circuit Court.
It’s one of the largest in recent memory for the conservative county, and it was awarded to a Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper who lost his lower-left leg in an off-duty motorcycle accident in 2010.
The verdict went against two construction companies that had left a low ramp across a Pascagoula road the night of the accident.
Marvin Henderson was on his motorcycle on Shortcut Road in Pascagoula when he hit the obstruction, according to the original complaint. The ramp covered a conduit the companies were using to move water and sewage across the road.
Attorneys said the drainage system had been built that day and left overnight. It was dark, and the obstruction was poorly marked.
It was a type of ramp, but when Henderson hit it late at night, coming home from classes and the gym, it sent him flying off his motorcycle. The blow crushed his foot and lower leg.
That was September 2010. He fought for almost a year with pain and rehabilitation, but finally lost his leg the following August.
After 25 surgeries, doctors thought he would have more mobility with a prosthetic leg.
Attorneys tried the case in Circuit Judge Robert Krebs’ courtroom last week. Originally, the jury calculated the award at more than $3 million — delivered late Thursday — but then came back to assign responsibility to each party. Jurors found Henderson was 60 percent responsible for his part in the accident, so they reduced the award.
Still, the $1.25 million stands out in this county. Judges recalled a $15 million award in a drilling case and $2 million in a 1996 construction case, both involving death, but those were overturned.
“We’re not accustomed to those (large) awards,” said Court Administrator Pat Smith, a 26-year veteran. “Jurors are generally pretty perceptive. They can see through all the grandstanding and get to the truth. So if you have a legitimate complaint, I think, by and large, the jurors can see that.”
Cost of losing a leg
Attorneys argued the companies had used barricades to direct traffic around the obstruction during the day, but not at night. The next day, after the accident, the companies removed it, they said.
Henderson was 30 then. When the case went to trial, he was 37 and had been through excruciating pain, the loss of his leg and all the rehabilitation and training for the prosthesis.
At the trial, his attorneys and witnesses were able to fully to explain to the jury what his expenses and medical costs would be for the rest of his life.
He is still with the MHP, however, and thriving. His attorney, Morgan Holder with Smith and Holder of Gulfport, said he is an investigator with salvage at MHP and still has trooper status.
“He’s a great guy, very resilient,” Holder said.
In 2012, two years after the accident, there was a report of him stopping an armed robbery in Jackson. He was doing a driver’s license road test at Metrocenter Mall, when he heard a woman cry for help. He exchanged gunfire with one man who was fleeing, and even with his prosthetic leg, was able to chase down a woman who was responsible for the getaway car.
At that time, he had four years on the force, and told reporters what he did in the parking lot was simply part of his commitment to protecting others.
Not a complainer
Henderson was in the Marine Corps for four years, did a tour for Operation Enduring Freedom with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Force, and performed humanitarian assistance in Africa. After the Marines, he earned an associate degree and joined the highway patrol.
When he hit that obstruction on Shortcut Road, he was a semester away from a bachelor’s degree, anticipating the birth of his second son and could run 2 miles in under 16 minutes. He was described as the strong, silent type, not a complainer.
Since the wreck, he has managed to stay strong and focused, observers say. He works out, he runs and he’s a bodybuilder.
In a YouTube video created by manufacturer Buckner Prosthetics, which developed prostheses for him and helped train him, Marvin “The Cyborg” Henderson says he thought his life was over when the doctors told him he would never run again.
“I thought it would be the end of me being athletic,” he said. “That was a gut-wrenching moment.”
But now, his work ethic is more intense than ever, because he said he has to be better than the guys with two legs.
He and his trainers with Buckner looked up the fastest an amputee has ever run the 40, and he believes he can beat that.
Despite his physical and emotional setbacks, he graduated in 2011 with a bachelor of arts degree in homeland security studies.
The trial lasted four days and went into the evening most days.
There was testimony from seven to eight experts, including engineers who testified to the loss of Henderson’s wage-earning capacity.
But with an award that high, an appeal is highly possible, attorneys say.
The construction companies named as defendants in the case are WT Construction and Jay Bearden Construction, both from upstate. The judge let Compton Engineering, a Pascagoula firm named in the original complaint, out of the case as not having responsibility.
According to a story in the Sun Herald in 2012 about Henderson’s gumption, his fellow troopers weren’t surprised at his perseverance.
His goal at the time was to become a federal agent. He still may have that in his sights.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “When I was in (the tunnel), I couldn’t see no daylight. But I kept going. I won’t let nothing stop me.”