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Gregory v. Fed Ex National LTL, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 4, 2016

BRIAN GREGORY, Plaintiff,
v.
FED EX NATIONAL LTL, INC., n/k/a Fedex Freight, Inc., and DANIEL ADAM DAVIS, Defendants.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          J. PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court held a bench trial in this negligence case in Benton, Illinois, on June 28, 2016. Plaintiff Brian Gregory appeared pro se, assisted by stand-by counsel Eric W. Kirkpatrick. Defendants Fed Ex National LTL, Inc., now known as Fedex Freight, Inc. (“Fedex”) and Daniel Adam Davis were represented by Steven J. Hughes. Gregory called himself and the defendants called Davis as live witnesses. They further jointly presented the deposition testimony of witnesses Dr. Don A. Kovalsky, Dr. Chelsea Crisp and Dr. Keith D. Wilkey.[1]

         I. Background

         Gregory brought this case after he was injured in a December 29, 2009, traffic collision in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, with a Fedex tractor-trailer rig driven by Davis, who was employed by Fedex at the time. Gregory alleges Davis was negligent (Count II) and that Fedex is vicariously liable for Davis's negligence (Count I); the defendants claim Gregory's own negligence caused his injuries and challenges the extent of his injuries from the accident.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), the Court makes the following relevant findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         II. Findings of Fact

         The Court finds the following facts by a preponderance of the evidence:

         A. The Collision

         1. On December 29, 2009, Davis, a Fedex employee was driving a Fedex tractor-trailer rig in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, in the course of his employment. The tractor was hauling two “pup trailers” connected by a dolly. The whole rig was about 58 to 60 feet in length.

         2. At the same time, Gregory was driving a pick-up truck that was hauling a goose-neck trailer. At all relevant times, Gregory was wearing a functioning seatbelt with a lap and shoulder belt.

         3. Gregory worked in his family's logging business doing hard physical labor.

         4. The area of the intersection where the collision took place is reflected on this map, of which the Court takes judicial notice for the sole purpose of assisting the reader in understanding the events described in the testimony:

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         5. Broadway Street is a four-lane road with a center turn lane running in the east-west direction.

         6. To the extent Gregory's and Davis's descriptions of the accident differ, those differences are immaterial to the outcome of this trial except where noted in this order.

         7. At around 9:30 a.m. on December 29, 2009, Davis was attempting to exit the premises of a TA truck stop located on the north side of Broadway Street. Davis was heading south out of the truck stop with the intention of turning left onto eastbound Broadway Street. Davis's point of entry onto Broadway Street was not controlled by a traffic signal.

         8. Davis's point of entry was about 250 feet west of the intersection of Broadway Street and the Wells Bypass (also referred to on the above map as S. 45th St.) (the “Wells Bypass intersection”), which was controlled by a traffic signal.

         9. At the time Davis was stopped at the exit of the truck stop, he was not wearing headphones, was wearing glasses, and was intently looking for an opportunity to exit the truck stop safely. There was moderate to heavy traffic on Broadway Street at the time, making it difficult for Davis to identify an appropriate time, and he waited several minutes for an opportunity to arise.

         10. While Davis was waiting for traffic to slow so he could safely exit the truck stop, Gregory was heading northbound on the Wells Bypass and was the second vehicle stopped at a red light in the left turn lane at the Wells Bypass intersection.

         11. Davis continued to look left and right in an attempt to identify a safe time to enter onto Broadway Street, and in doing so saw Gregory and others waiting in the Wells Bypass left turn lane.

         12. Davis saw that the traffic light at the Wells Bypass intersection had turned red for the westbound traffic on Broadway Street and knew that the left-turning lane from the Wells Bypass, where Gregory was, would soon have a green left turn arrow. Davis thought the stopped westbound traffic would be his best opportunity to exit the truck stop and that he could clear the intersection before the traffic turning west from the Wells Bypass reached him, so he moved into the intersection. Although Davis thought this was his best opportunity to exit the truck stop, it was not safe.

         13. In the meantime, when the traffic light at the Wells Bypass intersection turned red for the westbound traffic on Broadway Street, it turned green for the northbound, west-turning traffic from the Wells Bypass, the line of traffic in which Gregory was waiting.

         14. Gregory and the vehicle in front of him made the left turn onto westbound Broadway Street into the right, northernmost of the two westbound lanes of traffic.

         15. Gregory had not had time to build up excessive speed because he had started from a stop, was hauling a trailer, and had a slow-moving vehicle in front of him.

         16. Shortly after making the turn, Gregory switched to the left, southernmost of the two westbound lanes to avoid the slowing vehicle in front of him. As Gregory approached Davis's point of entry onto Broadway Street in the left, southernmost of the two westbound lanes, Davis had not yet cleared the westbound lanes, and the first trailer Davis was hauling was blocking the lane in which Gregory was driving. Gregory applied his brakes as soon as he saw Davis's rig in an effort to avoid impact with the trailer.

         17. Gregory collided with the first trailer Davis was hauling toward the back half of the trailer. The impact smashed the front of Gregory's truck behind the “landing gear” of the trailer, the equipment that allows the trailer to rest on the ground when not attached to a tractor. Gregory's truck was stuck under the trailer upon impact. Gregory's testimony that there were multiple impacts between the trailer and his truck and that Davis continued driving after the impact was not credible in light of Gregory's demeanor while testifying, the credible contrary testimony given by Davis, and the pictures of Gregory's truck following the accident, which do not reveal damage that would be expected from the kind of accident Gregory described.

         18. Davis felt the impact from the collision and stopped the tractor-trailer as quickly as possible. He remained stopped until the police arrived.

         19. The events that occurred as a consequence of the collision are disputed. Gregory testified that during the accident, he slipped under the seatbelt and went to the floor board six or seven times; was caught in the steering wheel; hit his head several times on the pole beside the driver's seat, on the steering wheel and heater core; and ended up with the gear shift in his mouth. The Court finds this testimony incredible in light of the fact that Gregory was wearing his seatbelt at the time and is of substantial size, and the events Gregory describes appear to be physically impossible while he was restrained by a seatbelt. Additionally, Gregory testified he hit his head several times in the accident so he “really wasn't thinking right” and that he was under duress from having his truck stuck under Davis's trailer, which calls into question his memory of the events. Furthermore, the elaborate sequence of events could not have occurred in the brief ...


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