JONESBORO — A special judge on Tuesday rejected arguments that the organization that provides fleet liability coverage for the cities of Jonesboro and Blytheville was operating illegally.
Special Judge Bentley Story ruled that the Municipal Vehicle Program offered by the Arkansas Municipal League (AML) is properly established. AML, though not a government entity, collects money from about 500 cities and towns to help them manage their risk against litigation. The program provides liability coverage for city-owned vehicles as is required under state law for all motor vehicles.
Attorneys Luther Oneal Sutter and Lucien Gillham of Benton representing plaintiffs in lawsuits involving personal injury car crashes with police vehicles, accused the league of fraud and "illegal exaction" of taxpayer money. The league had reportedly amassed about $20 million in reserve for the vehicle program.
The cities and the municipal league contend the Municipal Vehicle Program is not insurance and the program doesn't have a "duty to pay."
In Jonesboro, officer Michael Talley, the police department and the City of Jonesboro are defendants in the suit, the result of a May 2017 crash, in which three people were injured.
Talley, who was driving southbound on Flint Street in the rain, failed to stop at West Huntington Avenue. Talley slid past the stop sign and into a vehicle that had the right of way, according to the lawsuit.
The 2009 Crown Victoria that Talley was driving then struck a fire hydrant breaking it off and throwing it through the glass door of a business. The 1998 Toyota RAV4 occupied by Carolyn Johnson, and passengers, Haley Johnson Boyd and Michael Johnson, spun and struck a utility pole, according to the accident report.
Two separate lawsuits were filed in Mississippi County. Ariuana Jackson and Kemekko Clark sued Blytheville and officer Blake Liscomb over a Feb. 8, 2020 crash. Liscomb, who was also injured, sued Jackson, Blytheville and the municipal league over the same crash. Sutter and Gillham represented Liscomb in the case.
Blytheville reached a settlement with Jackson and Clark, even though Liscomb claimed Jackson was at fault for the crash.
Despite this week's ruling, the lawsuits will continue.
"This ruling affects only the allegations of illegal exactions on the part of the City of Jonesboro, the City of Blytheville, and the Arkansas Municipal League," Story wrote. "Any funds held for Ariuana Jackson and Kemekko Clark are released to them."