APPEAL FROM THE CRAIGHEAD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, WESTERN DISTRICT. NO. CV-2011-55. HONORABLE DAVID N. LASER, JUDGE.
Scholtens & Averitt, PLC, by: Chris A. Averitt, for appellant.
Hope, Trice, O'Dwyer & Wilson, P.A., by: Ralph " Win" Wilson III, for appellee.
RITA W. GRUBER, Judge. HARRISON and WOOD, JJ., agree.
RITA W. GRUBER, Judge
Appellant Chris Gamble loaned his portable, programmable, electronic sign to appellee Wes Wagner for use in appellee's political campaign. The sign was irreparably damaged, and appellant filed a negligence lawsuit against appellee. At the close of appellant's case, the circuit court granted appellee's motion for directed verdict and dismissed the case. Appellant brings this appeal, arguing that we should reverse because the motion was not made at the proper time and because appellant presented sufficient evidence of negligence and damages to present to a jury. We affirm the circuit court's judgment.
Appellant owns several furniture stores and mini-storage units in Manila and Jonesboro, which he and his brother manage. In December 2009, appellant bought an LED sign mounted on a trailer for $8,120.50 that he used daily to advertise at his various businesses. In April 2010, appellee, a friend who had attended high school with appellant, asked to borrow the sign trailer for his state-representative campaign. There was no contract; appellant simply loaned the trailer to appellee as a friend. Testimony differed regarding who retrieved the trailer sign from appellant's Manila furniture store--appellee insisted that he did not pick up the sign himself, although he did not say who did; appellant's brother and another employee testified that they saw appellee pick up the sign. In either case, appellee obtained the sign and stored it for several weeks at his father's house in Manila. Appellant, his brother, and an employee of the Manila store all testified that the sign was in working order when it was picked up.
Several weeks later, appellant called appellee and asked if appellee was going to bring the sign to appellant's Jonesboro store so appellant could program the sign for him. When appellee brought the sign to the Jonesboro store, appellant was working outside and saw appellee drive into the parking lot. Appellant said that the " guts were hanging out" of the sign and he asked appellee what had happened. The sign was inoperable. According to appellant, appellee said he did not know but not to worry--that he would pay for it. Appellee took the sign to a sign company, which informed him that the sign was not repairable. In spite of appellee's assurance that he would " take care of" the sign, the sign was never repaired, and both parties agreed that it could not be repaired.
Appellee testified that he had " no idea" how the sign got from appellant's Manila furniture store to his parents' house but said that he drove the sign 37 miles from his parents' house in Manila to appellant's store in Jonesboro to get it programmed. He said he did not notice that the back panel was missing or that the control panel was hanging out of the sign when he picked it up from his parents' house. He said that he did not do anything to damage the sign and that he drove as an " ordinary, cautious driver pulling a trailer." Appellee testified that he drove his route from Manila back and forth twice looking for the metal that was missing from the sign but did not find it.
Trent Francis, the owner of American Outdoor Fabrication, testified that he sold the trailer sign to appellant. He said that he had probably built twenty similar signs. He said that he fabricated the trailer himself but that the sign was a mail-order digital outdoor sign that he ordered off the internet. He testified that the sign was made to withstand the elements but that
he had never repaired one and was not familiar with the sign's " inner workings." He also said that all the screws to appellant's sign were missing down the back and that the damage was not something that " normally happens just pulling this down the road." He said that it was not repairable and that appellant would be required to buy a new sign: " I do not know who you would get to repair it because they are kind of expensive to buy and you would have to send the thing to China or something and ...