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Rivera v. Roma

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 21, 2019

MIGUEL RIVERA and VIRGINIA VERTIZ, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
v.
CARL V. ROMA, Defendant.

          Bruce L. Hudson, Hudson & Castle Law, LLC, Wilmington, DE - attorney for Plaintiffs

          Daniel M. Young, Ward Greenberg Heller & Reidy LLP, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         On August 4, 2017, Plaintiffs Miguel Rivera (“Rivera”) and Virginia Vertiz (“Vertiz”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint (“Complaint”) against Defendant Carl Roma (“Roma” or “Defendant”) in Delaware Superior Court asserting claims against Defendant for the negligent operation of his motor vehicle. (D.I. 1, Ex. A). On September 1, 2018, Defendant removed the case to this Court. (D.I. 1). Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 29). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will DENY the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Before dawn on November 1, 2015, Plaintiff Rivera was walking northbound on U.S. 1 near South Bethany, Delaware. (D.I. 1, Ex. A ¶ 4). Earlier that morning, Rivera and his wife had a disagreement and he had decided to leave their hotel and hitchhike back to their home in Alexandria, Virginia. (D.I. 32, Ex. F (“Rivera Depo.”) at 50:3-51:3).

         At approximately 5:00 a.m., Defendant Roma left his hotel in Ocean City, Maryland and proceeded northbound towards his home in Endicott, New York with passenger Steven Bernstein (“Bernstein”) riding with him. (Id., Ex. I (“Roma Depo.”) at 5:18-24; 10:11-20; Ex. D at 2). At approximately 5:29 a.m., while travelling northbound on U.S. 1, Roma struck Rivera with the front center of his car. (D.I. 1, Ex. A ¶ 6). Rivera was transported to Beebe Medical Center and “was later flown to Christiana Hospital for serious internal injuries, broken legs, and broken ribs.” (D.I. 32, Ex. D at 4). Rivera required hospitalization, surgery, and physical therapy. (D.I. 1, Ex. A ¶¶ 10-11). As a result of the collision, Rivera claims that he “was and is completely disabled.” (Id. ¶ 11).

         Both Plaintiff Rivera and Defendant Roma had been drinking alcohol the evening before the accident. Rivera testified that he had had four beers the evening before between 6:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. (Rivera Depo. at 66:10-17). Approximately seven hours later, however, after the accident, Rivera's blood was drawn and tested. (D.I. 32, Ex. G). It registered an Ethanol Level of 176, which constitutes a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) of .14%. (Id., Ex. E (“Burns Depo.”) at 32:4-33:7). Moreover, Corporal Jay Burns of the Delaware State Police testified that when he saw Rivera at the hospital, “there was an alcoholic beverage - an odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from his person.” (Burns Depo. at 30:12-15).

         Defendant also admitted to law enforcement that he had consumed alcohol the night prior. He estimated that the evening prior to the collision, he consumed between 1 and 1.5 beers per hour from about 5:00 p.m. until about 12:00 a.m. (Roma Depo. at 12:4-14-11). Defendant testified that he went to sleep around 12:20 a.m. and awoke before 5:00 a.m. before leaving his hotel to return home to New York. (Id. 10:11-15, 11:19-21). Defendant was initially arrested and cited with driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. (Burns Depo. at 22:11-17; D.I. 32, Ex. D at 4). The charges, however, were later dismissed - the case was nolle prosequi. (Id., Ex. J).

         The accident occurred on a remote section of highway that was dark, dry, and unlit at the time and location of the collision. (Burns Depo. at 23:17-24:16). The parties agree that Defendant was travelling 50 mph one-half second prior to the accident. (D.I. 31 at 5; D.I. 36 ¶ 10; see also D.I. 37, Ex. A). The speed limit at the location of the accident was 55 mph. (Burns Depo. at 39:13-19). Passenger Bernstein described the accident as happening quickly, and a “split second” after Roma applied the break to his car, in light of a “reduced speed area” sign. (D.I. 32, Ex. K (“Bernstein Depo.”) at 10:9-13; 11:2-7). The upcoming speed reduction area had a speed limit of 35 mph. (Burns Depo. at 39:7-12). Defendant testified that after seeing the “restricted speed limit” sign, he tapped his brakes to disengage cruise control, held his foot above the break as he slowed, and looked down at the speedometer. (Roma Depo. at 40:10-15). While Roma was looking down, Bernstein yelled “look out, ” at which point Roma depressed the brakes and collided with Rivera. (Id. at 40:16-20; Bernstein Depo. at 11:1-11).

         Rivera, through a translator, testified: “I heard the motor of a car. I got very agitated, I started to move my hand. I turned around and I waved, yes. I think I took a step into the street, I don't know, but not much. . . . Suddenly, everything disappeared.” (Rivera Depo. at 53:20-54:1). He further testified that he was walking “off the road with [his] back when [he] heard the motor of a car” and then “stepped a little bit past the line” before being hit. (Id. at 62:21-63:2). Following the collision, Bernstein called 911 and he and Roma waited for law enforcement to arrive. (Bernstein Depo. at 8:5-11; Roma Depo. at 16:2-13).

         The narrative of the collision report indicates that “the front center of [the vehicle] struct [Rivera] in the right lane of the roadway . . . .” (D.I. 32, Ex. D at 4). That same report indicates that “the initial investigation shows that [Roma] was not in violation of any traffic code.” (Id.). Corporal Burns, who investigated and reconstructed the collision, concluded “it is my opinion based on the evidence at the scene, and the injuries which he sustained, that [Mr. Rivera] was walking in the center of the northbound right lane[1], with his back to traffic, giving him little if any warning of the approaching vehicle.” (D.I. 37, Ex. A). According to Corporal Burn's investigation, Rivera was walking in the highway “without a light, and while wearing dark clothing.” (Id.). The collision occurred before the speed reduction area began. (Burns Depo. at 39:7-40:4).

         As noted above, on August 4, 2017, Plaintiffs filed suit against Roma. (D.I. 1, Ex. A). In the Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant was negligent in violation of Title 21 of the Delaware Code for: (1) “operating a vehicle in a careless or imprudent manner without due regard for the road conditions then existing in violation of 21 Del. C. § 4176(a); (2) “failing to give full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle and to maintain a proper lookout while operating the vehicle in violation of 21 Del. C. § 4176(b); (3) “operat[ing] his motor vehicle on the public highways while under the influence of alcohol in violation of 21 Del. C. § 4177.” (Id. ¶ 8).

         II. L ...


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