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Moira Tuck, Administratrix of the Estate of andrew G.Tuck,Deceased v. Jarred Alan Calhoun and Knight Transportation

February 2, 2011

MOIRA TUCK, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF ANDREW G.TUCK,DECEASED,
PLAINTIFF
v.
JARRED ALAN CALHOUN AND KNIGHT TRANSPORTATION, INC., DEFENDANTS
v.
NATIONAL FREIGHT, INC.; MARK CUNNINGHAM; AND LUZERNE COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition are a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Luzerne County and a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Defendants Jarred Alan Calhoun and Knight Transportation, Inc. The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

Background

The general background facts are largely undisputed by the parties. Plaintiff's Decedent, Andrew G. Tuck, died in an truck/motorcycle accident on June 12, 2008. On that day, Tuck was operating a 2005 Buell motorcycle. He was stopped on the motorcycle behind a 2008 Peterbilt tractor truck which in turn was stopped at a traffic light on Crestwood Drive, Wright Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The traffic light was at the intersection of Crestwood Drive and State Route 309. Defendant Jarred Calhoun was operating the tractor for its owner, Defendant Knight Transportation, Inc.

A National Freight tractor trailer operated by Third-Party Defendant

Mark Cunningham approached the intersection on Route 309 and made a right hand turn at the intersection from Route 309 onto Crestwood Drive. Calhoun put his Peterbilt in reverse gear and backed up, evidently to provide more room for Cunningham to make the turn. In backing up, the Peterbilt tractor rolled over both Tuck and his motorcycle. Tuck sustained fatal injuries.

Based upon these facts, the plaintiff filed the instant action raising the following five counts: Count I - negligence against Calhoun and Knight; Count II - negligence against Knight; Count III - punitive damages against Calhoun and Knight; Count IV - wrongful death against Calhoun and Knight; and Count V - a Survival Action against Calhoun and Knight.*fn1

(Doc. 1, Compl.).

Calhoun and Knight then filed a Third-Party Complaint against National Freight, Inc.; Mark Cunningham; Luzerne County, Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (hereinafter PennDOT). The Third-Party Complaint raises the following four counts: Count I -negligence against Calhoun; Count II - negligence against National Freight, Inc.; Count III - negligence against Defendant Luzerne County, Pennsylvania; and Count IV - negligence against PennDOT. (Doc. 13, Third-Party Compl.) PennDOT filed a motion for dismissal from the case, which the court granted. (Doc. 48, Court Order dated Oct. 6, 2009).

After the close of discovery, Defendant Luzerne County filed a motion for summary judgment with regard to the Third-Party Complaint. (Doc. 54). Defendants Calhoun and Knight filed a joint motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 60) and Defendants National Freight and Cunningham moved to join in that motion. (Doc. 63). These motions are now ripe for disposition.

Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to the diversity jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Because we are sitting in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania shall apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).

Standard of review

Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324. Discussion

As noted above, the original defendants and Third-Party Defendant Luzerne County have filed motions for summary judgment. We will address each separately beginning with Luzerne County's motion.

I. Luzerne County's Motion for Summary Judgment

Third-Party Defendant Luzerne County raises the following five issues: 1) no record facts establish negligence on its part; 2) no evidence supports the assertion that the subject intersection was improperly designed, constructed and/or maintained; 3) even if Luzerne County breached a duty owed to the plaintiff, such a breach was not the proximate cause of the accident; 4) governmental immunity shields Luzerne County from liability; and 5) the alleged defective condition of the intersection did not cause the fatal injuries at issue. We will address only issue number one as we find it is dispositive.*fn2

The Third-Party Complaint filed by Jarred Alan Calhoun and Knight Transportation, Inc., (hereinafter "Third-Party Plaintiffs") asserts a negligence cause of action against Luzerne County.*fn3 Luzerne County now argues that judgment in its favor is appropriate as the Third-Party Plaintiffs cannot establish any of the elements of negligence.

Under Pennsylvania Law, the elements of negligence are: "(1) a duty or obligation recognized by law; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual damages." Grossman v. Barke, 868 A.2d 561, 566 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2005).

The Third-Party Plaintiffs allege that Luzerne County was negligent in failing to maintain the intersection of Crestwood Drive and State Route 309 in a reasonable and safe condition; failing to use proper engineering and design standards with regard to pavement markings; failing to use reasonable care in ascertaining the danger of the condition created by its failure to use proper engineering and design standards; failing to properly inspect, maintain and/or keep safe the intersection; failing to warn the public of the dangers of the intersection; and failing to remedy the dangerous condition at the intersection. (Doc. 13, Third-Party Compl. ¶31).

Generally, the Third-Party Plaintiffs assert that Luzerne County was negligent in failing to use proper engineering and design standards with regard to pavement markings in the westbound lane of Crestwood Drive at the intersection of State Route 309. Specifically, they allege that the "stop bar" painted on the roadway lane directing vehicles to stop at a certain point when the traffic signal is red was placed too close to the intersection. According to the Third-Party Plaintiffs, the "stop bar" allowed vehicles to park so close to the intersection that tractor trailers could not safely turn onto Crestwood Drive from Route 309.

The law provides that a county has a duty to make its highways reasonably safe for their intended purpose. McCalla v. Mura, 649 A.2d 646 (Pa. 1994). This obligation on the part of the county can extend to placing appropriate traffic-control devices, such as the "stop bar" at issue. Starr v. Veneziano, 747 A.2d 868, 873 (Pa. 2000). A plaintiff must demonstrate three elements to establish that a local government agency had a duty to install a traffic control device. Id. These elements are:

1) the municipality had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition that caused ...


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