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Collins v. Tate

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.

August 14, 2019



          Marilyn J. Horan, United States District Judge

         This case concerns an accident, involving two tractor-trailers. Plaintiff Connie Collins brings the case on her own behalf and as Administrator of the Estate of Brad D. Collins, deceased ("Collins"), against Defendants Edward Tate ("Tate"), the driver of the second truck, Howard Transportation, Inc. ("Howard Transportation"), Tate's employer, and Howard Industries, Inc. ("Howard Industries"), the owner of Howard Transportation.

         Both parties have moved for partial summary judgment. Collins' Motion seeks judgment that: (1) Tate was negligent as a matter of law by failing to adhere to the assured clear distance ahead rule; (2) Tate and Howard Transportation are precluded, as a matter of law, from asserting affirmative defenses of contributory negligence and/or the sudden emergency doctrine; and (3) Howard Transportation is liable, based upon the doctrine of respondeat superior, if Tate is found negligent.

         Defendants move for partial summary judgment on the following issues: (1) Collins has failed to produce any evidence to support a claim against Defendant, Howard Industries; (2) Defendant Howard Transportation, having admitted agency, is entitled to summary judgment on Collins' direct negligence claims; (3) Collins' alleged comparative negligence is a jury question; and (4) Collins cannot support her claim for lost future earnings.

         Upon consideration of Collins' Complaint (ECF No. 1-2); Defendants' Answer and Affirmative Defenses (ECF No. 4); Collins' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Brief in Support, Concise Statement of Material Facts, Appendix and Exhibits (ECF Nos. 55-57); Defendants' Brief in Opposition (ECF No. 69); Collins' Reply Brief (ECF No. 79); Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Concise Statement of Material Facts, Appendix, Exhibits, and Brief in Support (ECF Nos. 62-67); Collins' Brief in Opposition (ECF No. 72); Defendant's Reply Brief (ECF No. 77); and for the following reasons, Collins' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.


         A. The Accident

         On February 17, 2015, at approximately 6:35 a.m., Mr. Collins, driving a semi-truck, with two trailers attached, was travelling west on 1-70 in Washington County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 57 at ¶ 1). Tate, acting within the course and scope of his employment, was also travelling west on 1-70, driving a semi-truck owned by his employer, Howard Transportation. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3. Witnesses reported cold weather conditions with snow along the sides of the road, as well as spots covered in snow and ice. (ECF No. 66-2 at pp. 73:21-25, 74:18-23).

         While travelling at approximately 58 miles per hour, Mr. Collins approached a slight right curve leading to a bridge, whereupon he encountered ice. (ECF No. 57 at ¶ 4, 6, 18). He lost control of the vehicle as he travelled around the curve, causing the truck to strike a concrete barrier. (ECF No. 66 at ¶ 3). After coming to a stop, his tractor partially obstructed the right-hand shoulder, and the trailers blocked both westbound lanes of travel. Id. at ¶ 5. The tractor and trailers were situated at the end of the curve in the road and across both westbound lanes of traffic. Id. at ¶ 16. Mr. Collins exited the vehicle, purportedly to assess damage and place warning devices. (ECF No. 57 at ¶ 8). However, in the time between his initial accident and the subsequent collision with Tate, Mr. Collins did not move his trailer, activate his emergency flashers, or call 911. (ECF No. 66 at ¶ 16).

         In the meantime, Tate was travelling westbound on 1-70, at about 66 miles per hour, in the right-hand westbound lane, and behind an SUV. (ECF No. 57 at ¶¶ 2, 4, 9). The SUV driver tapped the brakes and moved to the left-hand lane, and Tate followed suit. Id. at ¶¶ 9, 11. The distance, from where Tate could have first seen Mr. Collins's disabled vehicle, was over 600 feet. (ECF No. 66-2 at 43:17-24). As the SUV and Tate vehicles came upon the scene of Mr. Collins's accident, the SUV braked hard, which prompted Tate to apply his brakes as well. (ECF No. 66 at ¶ 8). The SUV veered to the left and into the median, successfully avoiding Collins's vehicle. (ECF No. 57 at ¶ 12; ECF No. 66 at ¶ 10). When the SUV braked hard, Tate switched back into the right-hand lane in order to avoid hitting the SUV. (ECF No. 57 at ¶ 26). Tate then approached Mr. Collins's vehicle, but Tate was not able to stop or avoid impact with Mr. Collins' vehicle. Id. at ¶ 10. Tate did not lose control of his vehicle until after it collided with Mr. Collins's vehicle. (ECF No. 57 at ¶ 17). After hitting Mr. Collins' vehicle, Tate's vehicle went through the guardrail and over a steep hill and came to a rest approximately 170 feet below. (ECF No. 66 at ¶ 11).

         The Tate collision occurred approximately 60 to 70 seconds after Mr. Collins' initial accident. (ECF No. 66 at ¶ 13). Tate's impact with Collins' vehicle caused Mr. Collins' truck to rotate 90 degrees, whereupon it struck Mr. Collins, who was still outside his vehicle. (ECF No. 57 at ¶ 15). Mr. Collins was thrown into the median by the impact, and he ultimately died as a result of his injuries. (ECF No. 57 at ¶ 16; ECF No. 66 at ¶ 15).

         B. Lost Future Earnings Claim

         Collins' damage claims include a claim for lost future earnings. To calculate damages, Collins utilized economic expert, Dr. David Boyd. Dr. Boyd issued an expert report on October 10, 2018, but later supplied a new, updated report on the day of his deposition, February 12, 2019. (EFC No. 66 at ¶ 32). The October 12, 2018 report purportedly applied an Ohio legal standard, and the February 12, 2019 supplemental report discussed the Pennsylvania "total-offset" method. Id. at ¶ 34. In preparing his report, Dr. Boyd did not speak with Connie Collins or with Mr. Collins' employer. Id. at ¶ 37.

         In his February 12, 2019 report, Dr. Boyd projected Mr. Collins' future earning capacity based upon his potential work-life expectancy. Id. at ¶ 42. From that, Dr. Boyd subtracted a "personal consumption" value that included a portion of the food that Mr. Collins would have eaten and his expenditures for clothing. Id. at ¶ 46. Dr. Boyd did not deduct housing expenses, because he considered such having a joint consumption value. He did not include entertainment expenses unless those involved something that Mr. Collins would have personally consumed himself. Id. Dr. Boyd was not sure if health care costs were included in the "personal consumption" value that he used. Id.

         II. ...

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