Young boy paralyzed in wreck is subject of lawsuit

A young boy paralyzed in a Northland traffic accident reportedly caused by a sneeze has become the subject of a Clay County lawsuit over who should get to pursue monetary damages on his behalf.

Jett Kirkland, who turned 2 last Saturday, has been at Children’s Mercy Hospital since Nov. 14, the day the wreck near Smithville Lake killed his mother, Laura McClendon, and severely injured him.

Last week, his maternal grandmother, Cathryn S. Calia of Smithville, filed a lawsuit against the other driver that seeks monetary damages for Jett’s injuries and his mother’s death. Calia asked to be appointed “next friend” of Jett, the person with legal standing to sue on his behalf.

This week, Jett’s father, Jeffrey Kirkland, filed court papers opposing Calia’s application for next-friend status and asking that he be granted it instead.

According to that court filing, Jett suffered “permanent paralysis” as a result of the accident, and his father plans to pursue claims “against all responsible parties, including the manufacturer of the baby seat Jett was riding in at the time of the accident.”

Attorneys for Calia and Kirkland declined to comment Thursday.

Calia filed her lawsuit against Kathryn Brady of Smithville, who is listed in the Missouri Highway Patrol incident report as the driver of the minivan that crossed the middle line of Route DD and collided head-on with a car being driven by McClendon. The patrol’s crash report described the accident as occurring after Brady “started sneezing violently.”

The lawsuit contends that Brady drove too fast, drove carelessly and imprudently on the wrong side of the road, failed to swerve to avoid the collision and failed to apply her brakes in a timely manner.

Brady, who is a schoolteacher, could not be reached for comment. No lawyer is listed for her in court records. She has been ticketed for operating a motor vehicle in a careless and imprudent manner and failing to register an out-of-state vehicle in Missouri.

According to Calia’s petition for next-friend status, Jett resides with her in Smithville and has no legally appointed guardian.

According to Kirkland’s petition, Jett had lived with his parents most of his life, and after the parents’ relationship ended, they shared joint custody of him. Jett will live with him after leaving the hospital, the petition says.

“Jeff Kirkland has been at his son’s bedside virtually around the clock, seven days a week, since this accident,” the court filing says. “He is making all medical decisions for his son and is responsible for all medical bills.”

Kirkland’s lawyer secured the vehicle and baby seat after the wreck to maintain a chain of custody for any potential product liability claims, the court filing says. His lawyer is researching the automobile insurance proceeds available for Jett.

Jett’s grandmother neglected to inform the court that Jett’s father had full custodial rights and had hired a lawyer, and she failed to notify Jett’s father of her lawsuit and next-friend petition, Kirkland’s court filing says.

A fundraising campaign for Jett is at