United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
June 15, 2005.
CASEY RIEDEMANN and KREG RIEDEMANN, Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM STIEHL, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, to
which defendant has filed a response.
This action arises out of an automobile accident, in which
Debra Smith, operating a United States Postal Service truck,
struck the rear of plaintiffs' vehicle. The impact of the
rear-end collision caused by the postal truck resulted in
plaintiffs' vehicle striking the vehicle traveling directly in
front of them. Plaintiffs filed this negligence action, and now
seek summary judgment with respect to the issues of liability and
proximate cause, asserting that a trial is necessary only with
respect to the issue of damages.
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that
summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a
judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving
party initially bears the burden to demonstrate an absence of
genuine issues of material fact, indicating that judgment should
be granted as matter of law. See, Lindemann v. Mobil Oil Corp., 141 F.3d 290, 294 (7th Cir. 1998) (citing Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). Once a motion for
summary judgment has been made and properly supported, however,
the nonmovant has the burden of setting forth specific facts
showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. See, id. In
determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the
Court construes all facts in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party and draws all reasonable and justifiable
inferences in that party's favor. See, Hedberg v. Indiana Bell
Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995).
"In order to prevail in an action for negligence, the plaintiff
must prove that the defendant owed a duty, that defendant
breached that duty, and that defendant's breach was the proximate
cause of injury to the plaintiff." Benner v. Bell,
602 N.E.2d 896, 898 (Ill.App.Ct. 1992). "While the issue of duty is a
question of law, the issues of breach of that duty and proximate
cause are said to be questions of fact for the jury." Id.
"Illinois courts have decided that the trier of fact is best
suited to determine whether an action is a substantial factor in
causing an injury and, if so, how much liability should attach."
Knoblauch v. DEF Exp. Corp., 86 F.3d 684, 689 (7th Cir.
Defendant does not dispute that Smith was negligent in
operating the postal truck. Rather, defendant argues that summary
judgment is not appropriate because material issues of fact
remain with respect to whether the plaintiff driver, Casey
Riedemann, was comparatively negligent.*fn1 A driver who does not maintain a proper lookout for
traffic ahead is negligent. However, it does not
follow that every person whose automobile is struck
from the rear is free from contributory negligence
and is entitled to recover as a matter of law. It has
been held that a driver intending to stop or suddenly
slow down his vehicle must use due care for the
safety of vehicles following so closely behind him
that they may be imperiled by a sudden stop.
Ryon v. Javior, 387 N.E.2d 936, 941-42 (Ill.App.Ct. 1979)
(internal citations omitted). Here, Debra Smith testified that
Casey Riedemann could have avoided the accident by giving her
"more braking notice, other than her slamming on the brakes to
avoid the gentleman in front of her." (See, Doc. 13, Ex. B, p.
11). Accordingly, an issue of fact remains with respect to the
comparative negligence of Casey Riedemann, which has been pled by
defendant as an affirmative defense.
Defendant further argues that summary judgment is not
appropriate because material issues of fact remain with respect
to the issue of its negligence being the proximate cause of
plaintiffs' injuries. In support of their motion for summary
judgment, plaintiffs cite to their own deposition testimony, in
which they provide details of various doctors' visits and
activities in which they can no longer engage. Plaintiffs also
cite to Exhibit E (Medical Records of Casey Riedemann) and
Exhibit F (Medical Records of Kreg Riedemann) in support of their
claim that defendant's negligence was the proximate cause of
their various back and neck injuries. They identify several
health care providers and state that each one attributes the
plaintiffs' respective injuries to the accident. However, the
medical records submitted by plaintiffs are unverified (and portions are virtually illegible); plaintiffs have not
submitted affidavits of any of the medical providers. The
evidence presented certainly raises an issue of fact with respect
to whether plaintiffs' injuries resulted from the accident,
therefore, it is not appropriate to grant summary judgment in
plaintiffs' favor based only on the evidence in the record.
Moreoever, in light of defendant's affirmative defense of
comparative negligence, it remains to be seen whether comparative
negligence on the part of Casey Riedemann was a proximate cause
of plaintiffs' injuries. See, e.g., Bultema v. Caterpillar,
Inc., 11 F. Supp.2d 966, 968 (N.D.Ill. 1998) ("there may be more
than one proximate cause of an injury").
Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that defendant has
conceded that it breached a duty to plaintiffs, but that genuine
issues of fact, more properly decided by a jury, remain with
respect to whether and to what extent plaintiffs' injuries did in
fact result from the accident involving the postal service
vehicle, and whether Casey Riedemann was comparatively negligent
or whether defendant's negligence was the sole proximate cause of
plaintiffs' injuries. Accordingly, the Court DENIES plaintiffs'
motion for summary judgment.
IT IS SO ORDERED.