Kansas City
Over $1 Billion in Verdicts and Recoveries
Drunken-Driving Verdict: $23 Million
Ruth E. Igoe
The Kansas City Star

VERDICT: Lawyer asks jury for “Stowers Message”

A Jackson County civil jury on Friday awarded a total of $23.4 million to the families of Cecil and Tracy Stowers, who were killed along with their infant daughter by a drunken driver last Christmas.

Lawyer Gary C. Robb had asked for a wrongful death judgment of $110 million. He said it could be called "the Stowers Message" and would serve to memorialize that family and deter drunken driving nationwide.

After all-day deliberations, the jury decided the message was worthy but at a lower cost.

The Stowers were killed as they headed home from a family gathering last Christmas. They were southbound on Interstate 435 about 10 p.m. when northbound drivers watched a Saab speed past them and weave through traffic.

Near 83rd Street, Anthony Fields' Saab crossed the grassy median became airborne and smashed into the Stowers' Chevrolet Blazer. Cecil, 29, Tracy, 30, and their 4 month old daughter, Sydney were killed. Police recorded Fields' blood-alcohol content at 0.16. The legal limit in Missouri is 0.1.

The civil verdict Friday against Fields came just a month after another Jackson County jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths and of two counts of second-degree assault for injuring two persons in another car involved in the crash.

The previous jury recommended that Fields be sentenced to 23 years in prison. He remains free on $150,000 bond and under electronic home detention until his sentencing, which is scheduled for January. Although the judgment Friday was much less than the families' attorneys suggested, Robb said the verdict still would serve as a legacy for the young family. Family members, many of whom wept and hugged jurors after the week-long trial, agreed.

We hope everyone will get the message "that no one should drink and drive," said Idora Henderson, Cecil Stowers' mother.

Said Vernon Robinson, Tracy Stowers' father: "We hope this will save more lives this season."

Fields' family released a written statement through their attorneys.

"We, the family of Anthony Fields, regret the loss and pain suffered by the victims' family. We acknowledge that no amount of money will be able to compensate for the loss of life. Again, we issue our condolences to the victims' families."

Fields' attorney declined further comment and could not be reached to determine whether insurance would cover the award.

During the trial, jurors heard about Fields' previous arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol in 1997. In his closing arguments, Robb recalled testimony about the devoted family.

"This case was about the destruction of a family," Robb told jurors as an expressionless Fields sat nearby. "Don't extend a slap on the wrist. Send a message. Be courageous," he said.

"You drink and drive and you kill someone here, and you will pay." Fields' lawyer, who chose not to present evidence during trial and acknowledged his client's culpability during closing arguments, countered that more money would not provide justice nor deter drunken driving.

"It isn't right," John Schultz told jurors after making a veiled reference to Fields' criminal conviction, information not permitted in trial. "Don't take it out on Anthony. He's been punished."

Schultz cross-examined several crash investigators and suggested evidence - such as crash scene measurements and blood samples - were mishandled and inaccurate. Although his client had been drinking, he suggested that another car swerved in front of him and forced him into oncoming traffic. Robb later countered such statements.

"Evidence in this case was overwhelming," he said. "Independent witnesses remembered seeing no such vehicle," said Robb, who also defended the investigation's integrity.

Multimillion-dollar judgments against Fields, he said, were appropriate for each victim's life.

"In Kentucky," he said, "horses are bought and sold for that amount without more than a bat of an eye."

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Personal Injury Lawyers - Kansas City, Missouri

Personal injury is an area of law that pertains to the injury of an individual. Both physical and emotional injuries fall into this branch of tort law. A personal injury lawyer is generally involved in cases where an injury has occurred due to the negligence of another party.

Examples of cases that a personal injury lawyer in Kansas City, Missouri can assist with include workplace accidents, falling or other accidents in the home, premises liability, defective and hazardous product cases, and dental and medical malpractice cases. If negligence on behalf of another party can be proved in court, compensation may be awarded.

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Wrongful Death Lawyers - Kansas City, Missouri

Wrongful death falls under the common law jurisdictions wherein a person may be held liable for a death. It is important to note that wrongful death is the only course of legal action in which a company, rather than an individual, is at fault for a death.

In Kansas City, Missouri, cases involving wrongful death accidents require a preponderance of evidence as the standard of proof. Generally, the suit is filed by close relatives.

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