Friday, April 19, 2024

Summary Judgment Granted in MVA Case Where Plaintiff Had Seat Belt Off and Defendant Driver Stopped Short

In the case of Lucykanish v. Flurer, No. 2545-CV-2022 (C.P. Monroe Co. Feb. 1, 2024 Williamson, J.), Judge David J. Williamson granted summary judgment to a Defendant driver in a motor vehicle accident case in which the Plaintiff was a passenger in that Defendant’s vehicle.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff was a rear seat passenger in the Defendant’s truck when another passenger dropped her cell phone in the rear footwell. The Plaintiff removed her seat belt to crawl around in the footwell to look for the phone.

At the same time, another vehicle improperly passed the Defendant’s truck on the right and then cut back into the Defendant’s lane.  In order to avoid a collision, the Defendant forcefully applied the truck’s brakes, which allegedly resulted in the Plaintiff striking her head on the truck’s center console.

After discovery, the Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that the Plaintiff could not demonstrate that he acted negligently in operating his vehicle and that there was no proximate causation established by the Plaintiff with respect to the Defendant’s actions and the Plaintiff’s alleged injuries.

Judge Williamson granted the Motion for Summary Judgment and held that the Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the Defendant acted negligently or that any alleged negligence on the part of the Defendant was a proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.

The court noted that the evidence developed during discovery confirmed that the Defendant braked his truck forcefully in order to avoid a collision with another vehicle that had improperly tried to pass the Defendant on the right and then attempted to cut back into the Defendant’s lane of travel. The court noted that Defendant driver’s actions were meant to protect the entire vehicle from a potentially serious motor vehicle accident. The court found that the Plaintiff’s alleged injury, that occurred while the Plaintiff was crawling around the floor in the back seat area, unrestrained, did not impute negligence to the Defendant when the urgent need unexpectedly arose to hit the brakes in a forceful fashion.

The Plaintiff otherwise attempted to argue that the Defendant was negligence per se by speeding in a construction zone. The court noted that this argument failed because, even if the Defendant had violated the Motor Vehicle Code as alleged by the Plaintiff, the Plaintiff had still failed to show that the Defendant’s alleged speeding was a proximate cause of the injury.

The crux of the Plaintiff’s claim was that the Defendant had braked too hard or too late. The court stated, however, that the force that one applies the brakes of a vehicle is not grounds for a finding of a negligence under circumstances of this case.

Rather, Judge Wiliamson noted that, here, the Plaintiff would have not been injured if she had simply stayed in her seat with her seat belt on. The court noted that the Plaintiff failed to explain why she had to crawl around the footwell of a moving vehicle, let alone one that she would later claim was driving allegedly dangerously fast.

Overall, the court emphasized that the Defendant had acted appropriately under the circumstances in order to avoid an accident. Accordingly, the court agreed with the Defendant that the Plaintiff had failed to prove negligence or that any alleged negligence on the part of the Defendant was the alleged proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.

As noted, summary judgment was granted and the case was dismissed.

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “The Legal Intelligencer Common Pleas Case Alert,” at (April 4, 2024).

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