JAMES R. WITHROW, Plaintiff,
JOHN H. SPEARS, and TRUCKS ON THE RUN, Jointly and Severally, Defendants/Third Party Plaintiffs,
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY Third Party Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CHRISTOPHER J. BURKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff James R. Withrow ("Withrow" or "Plaintiff) filed this action against Defendants John H. Spears ("Spears") and Trucks on the Run (collectively, "Defendants") for personal injuries he suffered in a motor vehicle collision. Defendants subsequently filed a third-party Complaint against Third Party Defendant State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. ("State Farm"), which is Plaintiffs uninsured motorist ("UM") carrier. Presently pending before the Court is State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). (D.I. 45) For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that the Motion be DENIED.
A. Factual Background
This case arises from a collision that occurred on November 4, 2011, when a tractor- trailer driven by Spears and owned by Trucks on the Run hit Withrow's car. (D.I. 46, ex. A at f 7; D.I. 52, ex. B at 13) The collision occurred at approximately 5:00 a.m. on the right shoulder of the northbound lanes of Route 1 in Delaware. (D.I. 52, ex. B at 25, 95-96; id., ex. C at 22) At the time of the collision, the weather was dry and clear, and it was dark outside. (D.I. 52, ex. B at 25, 41; id, ex. Cat 23-24, 49)
Plaintiff was driving to work, traveling northbound on Route 1 in his 2009 Toyota Camry, when a medical issue arose that required his attention. (Id., ex. C at 23-27) Plaintiff pulled his car off of the roadway and parked it on the right shoulder, to the right side of the rumble strip. (Id. at 24, 33) Plaintiff alleges that he turned on his hazard lights and shut off his car, and then exited it, leaving the driver's-side door open. (Id. at 26-28, 44-45, 52) After retrieving an item from the trunk, Plaintiff walked to the right passenger side of his car and tended to the issue. (Id. at 24-26, 44-45) Then Plaintiff reentered the vehicle, having been outside for an estimated three to four minutes. (Id. at 25-26, 45)
Plaintiff alleges that, upon reentering his car, he turned it on, put on his seatbelt and turned off the hazard lights. (Id. at 28-29, 46) At the moment of impact, Plaintiff contends that he was in the process of closing his driver's-side car door. (Id. at 29, 46) Plaintiff saw Spears' tractor trailer coming past him as it and Plaintiffs car door made contact, and immediately following the impact he observed Spears' truck on the roadway. (Id. at 47-48) Plaintiff did not see any other vehicles. (Id. at 48) A portion of Plaintiff s left hand, including his index and middle fingers and his thumb, was severed in the collision. (Id., ex. B at 44; id., ex. C at 14, 46).
Spears, in the course of his employment with Trucks on the Run, was driving an "[international tractor" (i.e., a "single-axle and a [28-foot] trailer") in the right northbound lane of Route 1 at approximately 65 miles per hour, en route from Milford to Wilmington. (D.I. 52, ex. B at 13, 15-16, 22, 33-34, 47) Spears observed Withrow's car parked on the shoulder of the roadway; he said that the car's taillights were on, but asserts that its flashers were not. (Id. at 25-26) Spears contends that he did not see Withrow's car door open at any time prior to the collision. (Id. at 27, 35) Once aware of Withrow's car, Spears decided to change lanes, as was his normal practice in such a situation "to give adequate room to the car and keep [himself] safe." (Id. at 22, 36, 70)
Spears alleges that when he looked in his left side rear-view mirror as he went to move to the left lane, he saw a truck (the "Unidentified Truck") in the left lane that was overtaking him. (Id. at 22, 27-28) Spears could not describe the truck "real well, " other than noting that it was a "big truck[, ]" a "sleeper cab" that he believes was dark in color and pulling a trailer. (Id. at 27-28) Spears did not know how fast the Unidentified Truck was traveling compared to his own tractor trailer. (Id. at 28).
Due to the presence of the Unidentified Truck in the left lane, Spears could not switch lanes as he had planned. (Id. at 22) As Spears' tractor trailer proceeded closer to Withrow's car, the Unidentified Truck started to pass Spears. (Id.) Spears alleges that as the Unidentified Truck was going by Spears' tractor trailer, it was "starting to drift over towards [Spears]." (Id.) Spears became aware that the Unidentified Truck was "too close" to him as the tractor of the Unidentified Truck was "just about passing" Spears. (Id. at 30) When asked whether the Unidentified Truck entered his lane at any point as it was passing him, Spears said "I don't think he did" but then noted that he "c[ouldn't] see" the center line dividing his lane from the lane in which the Unidentified Truck was traveling. (Id. at 31) Spears was sure that the Unidentified Truck was "closer than he should have been" to Spears' lane of travel—it was "crowding" Spears—and thus the Unidentified Truck had his attention. (Id. at 22, 31, 70) Spears alleges that he was not in a "panic that [the Unidentified Truck] was coming over, " however, because "it wasn't like [the Unidentified Truck] was turning into [Spears]." (Id. at 32)
Spears alleges that he moved over in his lane as a result of the fact that the Unidentified Truck was crowding him, taking "as much of the right side of [his] lane as [he] could to try and avoid a collision." (Id. at 22-23) Spears contends that he did not "swerve" or jerk his wheel over to the right side of his lane; rather, the shift was a "very, very minute, gradual easing to one side of the lane." (Mat 31-32)
Spears alleges that he could not see the white fog line on the right of his lane of travel. (Id. at 32) Upon easing to the right side of his lane of travel, Spears contends that although he "favored the right side of the lane[, ]" to his knowledge no part of his truck crossed the white fog line. (Id. at 32, 70) Spears alleges that he would have "hit the rumble strip" if he had crossed that line, which he did not do. (Id. at 32-33) While Spears admits that it would be possible to cross the white fog line without contacting the rumble strip, he asserts that "they are so close that it's not probable." (Id. at 78) Spears also attributes his certainty that he did not cross the white fog line to his years of experience as a truck driver. (Id. at 32-33) Spears further alleges that while he "d[idn't] believe that [he] went over the white line[, ] [he also] can't say that absolutely because" he could not see the white line at the time. (Id. at 33)
When his tractor trailer was in proximity of Withrow's car, Spears heard a noise coming from the trailer that indicated that something had gone wrong, so he pulled over to the right shoulder of the roadway to investigate. (Id. at 23, 43, 70) At first, Spears thought that perhaps a side door on the trailer had come ajar and then re-closed; he did not think it possible that his tractor trailer had struck Withrow's vehicle. (Id. at 23, 34, 70) However, after inspecting his tractor trailer and seeing nothing wrong, Spears walked back to Withrow's car "to cover all bases." (Id. at 43) Spears saw glass on the shoulder as he got closer, and he discovered that Withrow had been injured upon arriving at Withrow's car. (Id. at 44)
Spears claims that Withrow's vehicle, at the time of collision, was parked "way too close" to the travel lane, "within one to two feet[, ]" which he noticed while "looking at everything" after the collision. (Id. at 35) Based on his "own investigation[, ]" Spears also believes that Withrow's car door was being opened as ...