United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Honorable Michael T. Mason United States Magistrate Judge.
case arises out of a car accident between plaintiff Marian
Dineen and defendant Earl Oliver, who at the time was
operating a tractor-tailor as an independent contractor for
defendant Dakota Lines. Jurisdiction is proper under 28
U.S.C. § 1332 and 28 U.S.C § 636(c). Presently
before the Court is defendants' motion for summary
judgment. (Dkt. 49.) For the reasons set forth below,
defendants' motion is denied.
7, 2014, Oliver was driving a tractor-trailer on behalf of
Dakota Lines from Chicago, Illinois to Jackson, Michigan.
(Defs.' Statement of Facts (“SOF”)
¶¶ 1-2.) Between 3:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., Oliver
was traveling eastbound on Interstate 94 through Indiana and
approached Mile Marker 19. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.)
On the date of the accident, the left eastbound lane of
traffic near Mile Marker 19 was closed due to road
construction. (Id. ¶ 6.) As Oliver neared Mile
Marker 19, he observed traffic conditions to be moderate and
was traveling approximately 45 miles per hour. (Id.
¶¶ 4-5.) Also at that time, Oliver observed a
Toyota Prius being operated by plaintiff Dineen traveling
directly in front of him, with a “truck and a
half” distance between the two vehicles. (Id.
¶¶ 7-9.) As Dineen neared Mile Marker 19, she was
traveling in the right eastbound lane at approximately 40
miles per hour. (Id. ¶ 8.)
two vehicles approached Mile Marker 19, a third vehicle,
operated by non-party Geit Nong Mar, was merging onto
eastbound Interstate 94. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 10-11.)
As Nong Mar merged in front of Dineen's vehicle, he
decreased his vehicle's speed. (Id. ¶ 12.)
Oliver observed this and decreased his speed as well,
increasing the distance between his vehicle and Dineen's
vehicle to between “one and a half to two truck
lengths.” (Id. ¶ 13, 16.) Nong Mar began
to accelerate, but then came to a sudden, unexpected and
immediate stop, which caused Dineen to also stop suddenly.
(Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) Oliver did not observe
anything in front of Nong Mar that would have caused him to
stop so suddenly, and Dineen was unable to observe traffic in
front of Nong Mar. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) In any
event, Oliver was unable to stop his tractor-trailer after
Nong Mar's sudden stop and he collided with the back of
Dineen's vehicle. (Id. ¶ 19.)
Amended Complaint (Dkt. 42), Dineen alleges negligence by
Oliver (and vicariously by Dakota) for following too closely,
operating his vehicle too fast for conditions, and failing to
keep a proper lookout for other vehicles. Plaintiff alleges
that as a result of defendants' negligence, she suffered
injuries to her head, neck, back, legs and spine, and was
unable to attend to her usual occupation. She seeks damages
for lost time at work, medical expenses and ongoing pain and
suffering. In response, defendants denied all material
allegations and pled the affirmative defenses of
plaintiff's failure to exercise reasonable care, phantom
vehicle, plaintiff's sudden stop, Nong Mar's
non-party liability, and sudden emergency. (Dkt.
Standard for Summary Judgment
judgment should be granted if “the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A factual dispute is
‘genuine' only if a reasonable jury could find for
either party.” Nichols v. Mich. City Plant Planning
Dep't, 755 F.3d 594, 599 (7th Cir. 2014) (citation
omitted). At the summary judgment stage, the Court must
construe all facts and draw all inferences in favor of the
non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
contend that the facts surrounding the accident are
undisputed and they are entitled in judgment as a matter of
law on plaintiff's claim for negligence. According to
defendants, plaintiff cannot show that Oliver breached his
duty of care given Nong Mar's unforeseeable and
unexpected stop. Plaintiff opposes defendants' motion,
arguing that the issues must be presented to the trier of
fact. The Court agrees.
prevail on a negligence claim under Indiana law, a plaintiff
must show: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of
care; (2) the defendant breached that duty by failing to
conform his conduct to the requisite standard of care; and
(3) the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's
injuries. Flueckiger v. Englehardt, 89
N.E.3d 1119, 1121 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017), reh'g
denied (Feb. 12, 2018). The first element of duty is
generally a question of law to be determined by the court.
Smith v. Walsh Constr. Co. II, LLC, 95 N.E.3d 78, 84
(Ind.Ct.App. 2018). “The elements of breach and
proximate cause, however, generally present questions of fact
that must be determined by a factfinder.” Id.
As a result, “[s]ummary judgment is rarely appropriate
in negligence cases.” Florio v. Tilley, 875
N.E.2d 253, 255-56 (Ind.Ct.App. 2007); see also Bryan v.
Lyons, No. 07-CV-344, 2010 WL 2265617, at *1 (N.D. Ind.
June 2, 2010) (“A jury's unique competence in
applying the ‘reasonable man' standard is thought
ordinarily to preclude summary judgment in negligence
cases.”) (quotation omitted).
defendants seem to only half-heartedly argue that Oliver did
not owe a duty to Dineen. This is likely because Indiana
courts have made clear that “[a]ll operators of motor
vehicles have a general duty to use ordinary care to avoid
injuries to other motorists.” Wilkerson v.
Harvey, 814 N.E.2d 686, 693 (Ind.Ct.App. 2004); see
also Romero v. Brady, 5 N.E.3d 1166, 1168 (Ind.Ct.App.
2014) (“[T]he duty owed by motorists to fellow
motorists is well-established.”). Given that general
duty, the issue turns to the remaining elements of a
negligence claim: breach and causation. See Sandberg
Trucking, Inc. v. Johnson, 76 N.E.3d 178, 184
(Ind.Ct.App. 2017) (“Because of the existence of
[defendant's] duty to his fellow motorists…, the
focus shifts to whether a given set of facts constitutes a
breach of that duty.”) (citing Romero, 5
N.E.3d at 1169). As noted above, those elements often involve
issues of fact best left to the jury to decide.
Smith, 2018 WL 794801, at *4. While summary judgment
can be entered in a negligence case when “only a single
conclusion can be drawn from the facts”,
Florio, 875 N.E.2d at 256, this is simply not one of
according to defendants, Nong Mar's sudden and
unexplainable stop was not foreseeable, meaning judgment must
be entered in their favor as a matter of law. See
Flueckiger, 89 N.E.3d at 1121 (“[W]here it is
clear the injury was not foreseeable under the circumstances
and that imposing liability upon the original negligent actor
would not be justified, the determination of proximate cause
may be made as a matter of law.”). Relying on Evans
v. Palmeter, 521 N.E.2d 316, 317 (Ind. 1988), defendants
argue that although a “driver has a duty to watch the
traffic ahead of him, he is not necessarily chargeable with
negligence should he collide with a vehicle ahead of him if
it should stop suddenly and unexpectedly without
signaling.” While defendants correctly cite the law,
they ignore additional guidance from the Evans court
indicating that “it was within the province of the
jury to determine whether, under the circumstances,
” the driver could have anticipated a sudden stop.
Id. (emphasis added.) Similarly, as plaintiff argues
here, it will be for the finder of fact to decide whether
Oliver's actions were reasonable under the circumstances
of this case, including the fact that the accident took place
in a construction zone during moderate traffic, that Oliver
saw Nong Mar driving erratically before the sudden stop, and
given the responding Officer's belief that the accident
may have been caused by Oliver following too closely.
(See Defs.' Mot. at Ex. D - Trooper Escutia
Dep); Romero, 5 N.E.2d at 1170 (holding that an
issue of fact remained as to whether defendant driver
breached a duty to other motorist by failing to give himself
adequate distance to stop in time to avoid collision). On
this record, summary judgment is not appropriate.