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Hyde-Smith facing lawsuit: Claim says Senator’s horse got on road, causing wreck

An auto insurance agency is suing U.S. Senate appointee Cindy Hyde-Smith to collect for a crash claim allegedly involving livestock from her farm.

Hyde-Smith is scheduled to appear in Lincoln County Circuit Court on Dec. 4 in a civil suit brought by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. that claims one of her horses wandered onto a state highway, causing a crash on March 27, 2015. The suit alleges negligence on the part of the Smith family and seeks to recover $3,928.40 paid to the insured motorist.

The suit does not identify the highway, but Hyde-Smith’s address at 400 Cattle Trail Northwest in Brookhaven is roughly one half-mile from I-55. Her family’s property adjacent to I-55 is extensive.

It is against Mississippi law to allow livestock to roam onto federal and state highways. The law goes on to state livestock owners who allow their animals to wander onto highways “through their negligence” are responsible for damages that result from wrecks, loss of life or injury, with the burden of proving lack of negligence being on the owner.

Hyde-Smith’s response to the lawsuit denies the allegations in 17 separate defenses that ask the case to be dismissed and deny negligence, instead claiming the accident was caused by the driver — not identified in State Farm’s filing, but named “Connie Rickets” in Hyde-Smith’s defense papers — failing to adhere to the rules of the road.

The suit was filed March 8, 2016. The Dec. 4, 9 a.m. trial date before Circuit Judge David Strong was set on Feb. 8.

Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith interim U.S. senator in a ceremony in downtown Brookhaven March 21, to take over for the long-serving Thad Cochran, who is retiring Sunday due to declining health.

Hyde-Smith will fight to fill the remainder of the six-year term this November in a contentious special election against state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite, and former Clinton Administration agriculture secretary Mike Espy.

Republican strategist Andy Taggart and Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton are also threatening to jump into the race.

Hyde-Smith is leaving her post as Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce to accept the Senate appointment. She previously served in the state Senate from 2000 to 2011. She switched to the Republican Party in 2010.

Neither Hyde-Smith nor her attorney returned messages seeking comment.

The attorney representing State Farm did not return messages seeking comment.