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Victor Mitkal and, Mary Anne Mitkal v. United Parcel Service Co

January 18, 2011

VICTOR MITKAL AND, MARY ANNE MITKAL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE CO., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This lawsuit arises out of a series of motor vehicle accidents that occurred on an Indiana highway during a snowy morning in February, 2009. Before the Court is a motion for partial summary judgment [50] filed by Plaintiffs Victor Mitkal and Mary Anne Mitkal (collectively "Plaintiffs"). Plaintiffs ask the Court to find that Illinois law controls with respect to the allocation of fault to non-parties and the application of the collateral source rule to evidence regarding damages, that United Parcel Service, Inc., (incorrectly sued as United Parcel Service Co. ("Defendant")) is liable, and that Defendant's driver's conduct was willful and wanton as a matter of law. In this order, the Court takes up only the first part of Plaintiffs' motion, and holds that Indiana law governs this action.*fn1 Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motion [50] is denied in part.

Defendant's motion to file a surreply, instanter [68] is granted.

I.Background

The facts relevant to the choice of law analysis are not in dispute. On the morning of February 3, 2009, Victor*fn2 and Marry Anne Mitkal were involved in a series of accidents that occurred on Interstate 65 in Boone County, Indiana. Boone County is situated along the outskirts of Indianapolis. Victor was driving and Mary Anne was in the passenger seat. Snow was falling and accumulating on the roadway. Visibility was limited to 500 feet.

The two accidents involving Plaintiffs occurred in short succession. At 8:38 a.m., a southbound truck driven by non-party David Cole attempted to stop (for another accident ahead on the road), slid on the slippery road, and jack-knifed on the median, leaving the truck's tractor in the left southbound lane. Victor, who was driving behind Cole's truck, tried to move over to the right but lost control of his van. Plaintiffs' van spun around and struck Cole's trailer, veered right to hit the right guardrail, and came to rest on the right shoulder within inches of the right guardrail. The car had spun completely around and had come to rest with the front of the car pointing south. Victor exited the van out of the left, drivers' side door.

Seconds later, Defendant's employee, Juan Howard, driving a double tandem trailer, hit the right guardrail and rear-ended another vehicle driven by non-party Judith Tonk. After hitting Tonk, Howard crashed into Plaintiffs' van, causing the van to spin around 180 degrees. The van struck Victor, launching his body into the center of the highway and causing him to sustain severe injuries.

Plaintiffs were treated for their injuries in both Illinois and Indiana. Victor's injuries were first diagnosed in Indiana and Victor underwent a major surgery in Indiana. Victor spent the next 11 months in rehabilitation in Illinois.

Plaintiffs reside in Cook County, Illinois and are Illinois citizens. Defendant is a Delaware corporation with its corporate headquarters in Georgia. Defendant conducts substantial business in both Indiana and Illinois and has facilities and employs numerous employees in both states. Howard is an Indiana resident. The employment relationship between Howard and Defendant is centered in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Howard received his training in Indiana.

On May 4, 2009, Plaintiffs sued Defendant in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Law Division. Defendant removed the case on June 3, 2009 [1]. On July 27, 2009, Defendant moved to transfer this case to the Indianapolis Division of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) [13]. This Court denied Defendant's motion in its order of December 4, 2009.

On January 19, 2010 (more than eight months after Plaintiffs filed suit), the parties filed the "revised joint status report" that is the subject of the instant dispute [27]. The first page of the report contains the statement "[t]he parties stipulate that Indiana Law shall apply." The document contains the electronic signatures of Scott C. Bentivenga and Michael Wroblewski (attorneys for Defendant), and Matthew A. LaSusa (attorney for Plaintiffs). Mr. Bentivenga (attorney for Defendant) actually electronically filed the stipulation.

As explained in detail below, Indiana law applies to this action both because (1) Indiana is the state with the more significant relationship to the parties and the occurrence giving rise to this suit; and (2) the stipulation of Indiana law entered into between the parties is reasonable and enforceable.

II. Legal Standard on Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper where "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). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of fact, the Court "must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004).

To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is proper against "a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322. The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In other words, the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

III. Choice of Law

A. Legal Standard for Choice of Law Analysis

Federal courts sitting in diversity must apply the choice-of-law rules of the forum state in which they sit. See, e.g. Wildey v. Springs, 47 F.3d 1475, 1480 (7th Cir. 1995); see also Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487 (1941). Thus, this Court will apply Illinois choice-of-law principles. Illinois courts have developed a three-step analysis for resolving a choice of law question. To determine which state's law applies, the court: (1) isolates the issues involved in the case and defines the conflict; (2) identifies the policies embraced in the laws of each of the competing states; and (3) examines the contacts of the respective jurisdictions to determine which has a superior ...


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