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Williams v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 9, 2015

CLAIRE ANN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITES STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANIEL G. MARTIN, Magistrate Judge.

On June 23, 2011, Plaintiff Claire Ann Williams filed suit against Defendant, the United States Postal Service ("USPS"). Therein, Williams alleged that she was injured in Chicago, Illinois as a result of a motor vehicle collision caused by the negligence of United States Postal Service Employee, Ramiro Garza, acting within the scope of his employment. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 7-8, 13-18.). All discovery closed on August 5, 2013. A bench trial commenced on September 29, 2014, concluding on that same date.

The bench trial included the testimony of several witnesses and the admission of various exhibits into evidence. The parties also presented oral opening statements and oral closing arguments. Both sides submitted proposed findings of fact[1] and conclusions of law, which were made part of the final pretrial order.

The Court has considered the evidence, including the testimony of the witnesses and exhibits, and has further considered the oral arguments and previous written submissions of counsel for the parties and the authority cited therein.

The Court weighed the testimony of each witness and determined whether the testimony was truthful and accurate (in part, in whole, or not at all) and decided what weight, if any, to give to the testimony of each witness. In making this determination, the Court considered, among other things: the ability and opportunity of the witness to see, hear, or know information about which the witness testified; the witness's memory; any interest, bias, or prejudice the witness may have; the witness's intelligence; the manner of the witness while testifying; and the reasonableness of the witness's testimony in light of all of the evidence in the case. See Fed. Civ. Jury Instr. 7th Cir. § 1.13 (2009).

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52, the Court enters the following written Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, which are based upon consideration of all the admissible evidence and this Court's own assessment of the credibility of the trial witnesses. To the extent, if any, that Findings of Fact, as stated, may be considered Conclusions of Law, they shall be deemed Conclusions of Law. Similarly, to the extent, if any, that Conclusions of Law, as stated, may be considered Findings of Fact, they shall be deemed Findings of Fact.

The Decision section of this Opinion and Order, for purposes of organization and clarity, contains some reference to law and facts. To the extent, if any, that any part of the Decision may be considered Findings of Fact or Conclusions of Law, it shall be so deemed.

LEGAL STANDARD

The case involved a relatively straightforward dispute over an automobile accident. The Plaintiff, Claire Ann Williams (hereafter, "Plaintiff") sued Defendant United States of America (hereafter, "Defendant"). Plaintiff brought a cause of action for damages for personal injuries sustained by the Plaintiff as a result of a motor vehicle collision allegedly caused by the negligence of United States Postal Service Employee, Ramiro Garza. The Defendant denied all negligence.

Jurisdiction

The Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Cases brought under this Act may only be brought in federal court. The substantive law of the state in which the alleged tort occurred, Illinois, is applicable. See Del Raso v. United States, 244 F.3d 567, 570 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)); 28 U.S.C. § 2674. The substantive law of the state in which the alleged tort occurred applies in a suit brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Id.

Applicable Illinois Law

In this case, the applicable substantive law is that of the State of Illinois. Procedural law is governed by federal law. Gil v. Reed, 535 F.3d 551, 558 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008). The burden of proving each element rests with the plaintiff. Rittenhouse v. Tabor Grain Co., 561 N.E.2d 264, 269 (Ill.App. 1990).

Indeed, Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that defendant's negligence was more probably than not the cause of her injuries. Newell v. Corres, 466 N.E.2d 1085 (Ill.App. 1984). As defined in Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction 15.01, proximate cause is "that cause which is natural or probable sequence produced the injury complained of."

Absent such proof, plaintiff is not entitled to any recovery for negligence in the action. Indeed, the negligence theory of recovery is controverted in this action. The mere existence of a collision resulting in injuries does not, as a matter of law, mean that the driver of the vehicle is negligent or failed to exercise due care. Wilson v. CTA, 455 N.E.2d 195, 199 (Ill.App. 1983). In Illinois, negligence, as a theory of recovery, consists of four separate elements: ...


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