Michael Kenney and Steven Malitz Secure Favorable Summary Judgment Ruling on Behalf of Trucking Company

January 18, 2019

RRD Attorneys Michael Kenney and Steven Malitz recently obtained a summary judgement ruling in their clients’ favor in a major underride case pending in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut. The plaintiff had been traveling on Interstate 95 in Greenwich when he drifted off the road and into the shoulder, where he crashed into the rear of our clients’ tractor trailer. The plaintiff, who survived the accident but sustained catastrophic injuries, told police at the scene that he must have fallen asleep. Testing confirmed his BAC was over the legal limit of .08, and hospital records documented that he had told hospital staff he had consumed seven drinks.  The plaintiff sued, claiming our clients were negligent and negligent per se in parking on the shoulder, in violation of state law and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.  At his deposition the plaintiff denied being drunk, denied telling law enforcement that he had fallen asleep, and claimed that the reason he was on the shoulder was that he hit black ice. 

After securing critical factual testimony from first responders and disclosing weather, toxicology and accident reconstruction experts to refute the plaintiff’s testimony, we moved for summary judgment. We argued that under these facts the defendants did not owe the plaintiff a legal duty, and even if a duty were owed and was breached, the plaintiff’s own negligence and recklessness severed any proximate cause between the defendants’ negligence and the accident. Finally, we argued that even if the plaintiff could prove the defendants were negligent, his own overwhelming negligence barred his recovery under Connecticut’s modified comparative negligence rules.  

The District Court granted the motion, agreeing with our argument that the plaintiff’s recovery was barred, because under the undisputed evidence no reasonable jury could ever find that his negligence was not greater than any negligence on the part of the defendants.  The Court did not address our duty and proximate cause arguments. The Court agreed that this case presented one of the relatively rare examples of when the issue of a party’s negligence could be decided as a matter of law on summary judgment.  The Court further agreed with the defense argument that a party cannot create a genuine issue of fact on summary judgment by simply advancing that party’s own testimony, where that testimony is unsupported by, and indeed directly contradicted by, all other admissible evidence. 

This case is also notable in that the plaintiff had also brought recklessness claims, which were the subject of a successful motion to dismiss.