The man’s death prompted a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and his employer. Nearly four years later, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit. The facts of the case, Watson v. Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation, were fairly straightforward. The victim, Royce Watson, had attended a funeral with his wife in Nash, Texas. After the service, a funeral procession traveled from Nash to Texarkana, Arkansas. The procession had a police escort in Texas up to the Arkansas state line. Thereafter, the funeral director led the procession into Arkansas.
At the same time, an employee of the Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative drove his company vehicle through the intersection. The Cooperative vehicle collided with Watson’s car, killing him.
She argued that her husband’s vehicle had the right-of-way at the time of the accident because he was traveling in a funeral procession. Arkansas law permits funeral processions to travel without stopping at signals. The defense argued this was not a valid funeral procession, however, as there was no “funeral escort vehicle.”
J. Timothy Smith, a truck accident lawyer and partner with Elliott & Smith Law Firm in Fayetteville, Arkansas, explained this lawsuit turned on the color of a light. “A funeral escort vehicle must have flashing or rotating purple lights. In this case, the funeral director who led the procession into Arkansas had what the judge described as ‘whitish blue’ lights. So by the ‘plain language’ of the law, the judge said this was not a funeral procession.”
The judge also rejected the widow’s argument that the Electric Cooperative’s driver was still negligent because he violated company safety regulations at the time of the accident. According to Smith, “The general rule in Arkansas is that a company’s internal policy does not create a legal duty to act ‘where none exists.’ In other words, a company policy cannot hold an employee to a higher standard than what is normally required by Arkansas law.”