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Bowers v. Bedwell

October 31, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


This action is to determine the question of negligence with respect to an automobile accident involving a tractor-trailer and a passenger van. Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that the driver of the tractor-trailer was not negligent as a matter of law. Plaintiffs have shown sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact about the events surrounding the accident. Accordingly, the court will deny Defendants' motion.

I. Background

A. Facts

On June 24, 2004, a passenger van driven by Plaintiff Candy Bowers*fn1 collided with a tractor-trailer under the control of Defendant William Bedwell.*fn2 The accident occurred on the entrance ramp to U.S. Highway 15, southbound, from Route 116 in Adams County, Pennsylvania. (Bedwell Dep. 27:13-28:20, July 14, 2006.) The events leading to the collision are disputed by the parties. The court will present first the facts alleged by Defendant, then the facts alleged by Plaintiff.

1. Facts from Defendant

As Defendant turned on to the entrance ramp from Route 116, he heard a thumping sound coming from the tractor-trailer. (Id. at 30:18-19.) He decided to investigate the noise before continuing on his journey. (Id. at 30:20-22.) He activated his right turn signal and pulled over to the side of the road. (Id. at 30:21-23.) He wanted to pull off of the roadway as far as possible in case repairs were required. (Id. at 35:13-17.) After he pulled off and stopped, Defendant set his parking brake. (Id. at 31:9-10.) The brake lights of the tractor-trailer may have been on (id. at 44:22-45:3), but it is uncertain whether its hazard lights were flashing (id. at 45:4-14; Becker Dep. 12:3-12, May 11, 2006; Denisch Dep. 44:10-15, May 11, 2006). About thirty seconds after he stopped the tractor-trailer, Defendant heard the crash that was Plaintiff's van hitting the back of the trailer. (Bedwell Dep. 31:11-15.)

Immediately before the accident, eyewitness Bradley Becker was driving a few car-lengths behind Plaintiff on the ramp from Route 116 to Highway 15. (Becker Dep. 8:7-9; 9:23-10:3; 39:19-40:3.) Plaintiff was driving in the middle of the ramp ahead of Becker, fully straight in the lane. (Id. at 39:19-25.) Suddenly, Plaintiff's van "veered off rather sharply to the right into the back of the . . . tractor-trailer." (Id. at 10:13-16; 13:5-18.) According to Becker, the tractor-trailer was completely removed from the lane of travel and stopped on the side of the road at the time of the accident. (Id. at 11:5-8; 11:16-18.) A photograph taken after the accident shows that the tractor-trailer is outside of the traveled roadway. (Defs.' Ex. E at 2, top photo.) The vehicle is stopped outside the white line demarcating the right-hand boundary of the lane of travel. (Id.) Becker confirmed that the photograph was taken before the tractor-trailer or the van were moved from their positions at the time of the accident. (Becker Dep. at 19:3-8.)

2. Facts from Plaintiff

Plaintiff made a left-hand turn from Route 116 onto the entrance ramp to Highway 15. (Bowers Dep. 34:21-25, June 21, 2006.) Once she straightened out on the ramp, she saw the tractor-trailer. (Id. at 39:2-41:16.) She was traveling at a steady rate of speed as she approached the rear of the trailer. (Id. at 43:6-16.) She thought that the tractor-trailer was moving because its brake lights were not on (id. at 43:24-44:8.) and its hazard lights were not flashing (id. at 43:17-44:6). She thought that it had made a wide left-hand turn on to the entrance ramp, crossing over the right-hand white line, and was pulling back to the left to straighten into the lane of travel. (Id. at 43:17-46:7.) Moreover, she saw the tractor-trailer situated "halfway on the road," as she approached, not completely pulled over to the shoulder.*fn3 (Id. at 44:6-15.)

Plaintiff decided that she would not be able to stop before reaching the tractor-trailer. (Id. at 43:19-44:2; 48:7-12.) She attempted to keep her rate of speed steady and pass the tractor-trailer on the right. (Id. at 47:14-48:11.) Initially, she thought that by steadily moving to the right, she would make it around the tractor- trailer and avoid hitting it entirely. (Id. at 46:3-7.) She realized, at the last minute, that the tractor-trailer was stopped, not moving forward. (Id. at 46:3-7.) She could not stop the van in time, however, and collided with the driver's side rear corner of the trailer. (Id. at 48:1-6.) She contends that if the brake lights or the emergency flashers on the trailer had been on, she would have seen that the vehicle was stopped and avoided the accident. (Id. at 63:1-2.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed suit on December 19, 2005. (Doc. 1.) By order of this court, the case was sent to mediation on March 7, 2006. (Doc. 13.) It was removed from the mediation program on March 23, 2006. (Doc. 14.) Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 15) and supporting brief (Doc. 16) on September 14, 2006. Plaintiffs filed an opposition brief (Doc. 21) on October 5, ...

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