Editor's note: This story has been updated (see italicized text) to provide clarity. 6-13-17
CULLMAN – On May 18, Ashley Wilson, mother of Curtis James Wilson, 15, filed a wrongful death suit against Bradford Neal Meeks, 27, of Cullman, the driver of the truck that collided with hers on May 7, resulting in her son’s death and injuries to her. The document filed with the court alleged that, at the time of the incident, Meeks was driving “negligently, wantonly, recklessly and/or otherwise unreasonably;” and that he was “unfit to drive and/or failed to maintain control of his vehicle.” She also filed against her own insurance providers Allstate and Alfa, demanding payment on underinsured motorist claims.
Earlier this week, all three defendants responded to the suit in documents submitted to the court. Meeks, through his attorney Gaynor St. John, made a “general denial” of Wilson’s allegations, pleading that Meeks’s actions behind the wheel were not negligent, but instead were the result of a “sudden emergency.”
Allstate Insurance, through its attorney Cornelius Warren, denied Wilson’s claim. Included in its response were allegations that Wilson failed to state claims that could be paid, and also that her claims failed to meet the statute of limitations. Furthermore, Allstate charged Wilson with “contributory negligence,” a legal term alleging that her actions during the incident contributed to her own injuries and her son’s death.
The Tribune reached out to an attorney for more on what exactly the “contributory negligence" claim means.
According to Birmingham-based attorney Tracy Miller, who is not associated with the case, "Contributory negligence is a standard affirmative defense that is deemed waived if not pled in a defendant’s answer. The mother’s complaint and the answers filed by the defendants in response thereto are called pleadings, and both have formal, legal requirements that may not make much sense to someone not engaged in the practice of law. It does not mean the facts and evidence obtained during the discovery process will show the mother was negligent or that any of the defendants actually believe she was negligent. The defendants must assert all affirmative defenses now and determine through discovery if any defenses actually apply to the case.”
Alfa Insurance, through its attorney Michael Haggard, denied Wilson’s claim on constitutional grounds, arguing that the punitive damages she seeks violate due process and equal protection clauses in the U.S. and Alabama constitutions. It also denied that the accident was caused by an underinsured motorist.
Both Insurance companies admitted that Wilson had underinsured motorist coverage with them, and both requested set-off: the right to withhold payment until they find out how much the other defendants will be required to pay, and to determine their required amounts accordingly.
Ashley Wilson is being represented by Birmingham attorney Gregory Martin Zarzaur.
Curtis Wilson died at Children's of Alabama after being transported by helicopter from the scene of the wreck, which occurred just after 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 7 in the 2000 block of County Road 222 in front of Van's Sporting Goods. The crash is still under investigation by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. No criminal charges have yet been filed in the case.
On May 8, Troopers released a statement saying that their preliminary investigation indicated that alcohol may have been involved in the crash. While the report did not specify which driver was suspected to have been under the influence, The Cullman Tribune learned from several sources that Meeks, 27, of Cullman, the driver of the car that hit Curt Wilson and his mother, was allegedly driving erratically prior to the crash and that he allegedly made statements on the scene that led law enforcement to believe he was not sober. Additionally, Meeks has an extensive criminal history with at least two DUI charges.
Curtis Wilson, who was a sophomore at Cullman High School, was the second area student to be killed by a suspected drunk driver this year. In March, Tonya J. Busbee, 34, of Bremen and her daughter, Rhianna Busbee, 13, a student at Cold Springs, died after being hit head on by another driver on County Road 813. That wreck also remains under investigation.
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