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Perez v. K&B Transportation, Inc.

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

September 30, 2019

PEREZ ET AL, Plaintiff,
v.
K&B TRANSPORTATION, INC. and KIARA WHARTON, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Moses Perez and Dee Perez sued K&B Transportation Inc. and Kiara Wharton for injuries Perez suffered after a collision on Interstate 294 on January 20, 2016.[1] The case was removed to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. (Dkt. 1). Plaintiffs’ amended complaint alleges negligence (Count I), willful and wanton conduct (Counts II and V), vicarious liability (Count III), negligent safety culture (Count IV), loss of consortium (Counts VI and VII), and Family Medical Expense Act (Count VIII). (Dkt. 37). Defendants moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for summary judgment [73] is granted.

         I. Background

         On January 20, 2016 around 5:18 am, Perez and Wharton were both driving eastbound on Interstate 294 in Thornton, Illinois when Wharton’s commercial truck collided into Perez’s Ford Explorer car. Plaintiffs claim that Perez suffered serious physical and emotional injuries as a result.

         It is undisputed that Perez was ahead of Wharton in the same right I-Pass lane as her, that icy conditions caused Perez’s car to spin out before Wharton’s truck ran into him, and that Perez has no recollection of Wharton’s truck before the moment of the collision. (Dkt. 93, ¶¶14, 27; Dkt. 82, ¶¶9, 11). Although Wharton did not know how fast she was driving before the accident, it is undisputed that her truck was in third or fourth gear at the time of the accident. (Dkt. 93, ¶¶8, 13). The parties also agree that the relevant speed limit was 55 miles per hour. (Id. ¶ 22).

         There were only two witnesses to the accident: Perez and Wharton. The other Plaintiff, Dee Perez, Moses’ wife, was not with him at the time of the accident. Other witnesses in the case are Claudio Lauciello, who saw both vehicles that morning but did not see the accident, Matthew Tipton, safety and compliance manager at K&B, and Chris Schrunk, night supervisor at K&B. Plaintiffs also submitted two expert reports. For the reasons discussed below, the Court declines to consider their opinions in deciding the summary judgment motion.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper where “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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine factual dispute exists when there is enough evidence that a reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party. Whiting v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 839 F.3d 658, 661 (7th Cir. 2016); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In construing the evidence and facts supported by the record in favor of the non-moving party, the Court gives the non-moving party “the benefit of reasonable inferences from the evidence, but not speculative inferences in [its] favor.” White v. City of Chi., 829 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2016) (internal citations omitted).

         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 the party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; see also White, 829 F.3d at 841 (summary judgment warranted where a reasonable juror could not find in favor of the non-moving party “on the evidence submitted in support of and opposition to the motion for summary judgment.”) (internal citation omitted).[2]

         III. Discussion

         This case is about an unfortunate accident on Interstate 294 on an early winter morning. Plaintiffs cannot survive summary judgment because the evidence shows, as Perez admitted both right after the accident and in his deposition, that icy conditions caused his car to spin out of control. Plaintiffs have not provided any evidence that Wharton drove negligently or with intentional or reckless disregard for others.

         A. Plaintiffs’ Experts Adam Grill and Mike DiTallo

         Plaintiffs submitted reports from commercial motor vehicle expert Adam Grill and accident reconstruction expert Mike DiTallo. Although factual disputes on summary judgment are resolved against the movant, “the question of admissibility of expert testimony is not such an issue of fact.” Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 143 (1997). See also Lewis v. CITGO Petroleum Corp., 561 F.3d 698, 704-05 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[W]e have repeatedly affirmed district courts that have made evidentiary rulings on proposed expert testimony in conjunction with summary judgment orders.”). Having reviewed the experts’ reports and depositions, the Court declines to consider their testimony in deciding the summary judgment motion.

         The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 703 and the Supreme Court’s Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) decision. In a three-step analysis, courts assess “whether the witness is qualified; whether the expert’s methodology is scientifically reliable; and whether the testimony will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Gopalratnam v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 877 F.3d 771, 779 (7th Cir. 2017) (internal citations and quotations omitted). The burden is on the party seeking to admit the expert to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the expert satisfies Rule 702 and Daubert. Id. at 782. In their gatekeeping role, district courts have “significant discretion under the flexible Daubert inquiry.” Lapsley v. Xtek, Inc., 689 F.3d 802, 818 (7th Cir. 2012).

         Defendants do not challenge the experts’ qualifications, but argue that their opinions are speculative conclusions not based on the facts of the case. (Dkt. 110). The Court agrees. Plaintiffs have not met their burden to establish the admissibility of the opinions. Rule 702 requires expert testimony to be based on sufficient facts or data, to be the product of reliable principles and methods, and to show that the expert reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case. Fed.R.Evid. 702.[3]

         Grill’s report (Dkt. 109-1, Exh. J) states that he reviewed “information” without providing specifics. The report cites to a number of regulations and trucking guidelines, but the only case-specific evidence it references is Trooper Kenny’s crash report. Grill draws conclusions such as that Wharton “failed to look far enough ahead to perceive any road hazards in front of her”, “failed to keep a safe and adequate distance between herself and the Perez vehicle”, and “Wharton’s ...


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