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Stephenson v. Big Oaks Trailer Park, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware

September 12, 2019

SCOTT STEPHENSON and DANIELLE STEPHENSON Individually and as Guardian ad Litem for her Minor Daughters, AVA STEPHENSON, and LILLIAN STEPHENSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
BIG OAKS TRAILER PARK, INC., d/b/a BIG OAKS CAMPGROUND, and BOYER'S TREE SERVICE Defendants.

          Date Submitted: June 14, 2019

         Upon Defendant Big Oaks Trailer Park, Inc 's Motion in Limine to Exclude the Testimony of Russell E. Carlson Granted in part.

         Upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment Granted.

          Sean P. Gambogi, Esquire, Kimmel, Carter, Roman, Peltz & O'Neill, Newark, Delaware, Attorney for Plaintiffs.

          Michael I. Silverman, Esquire and Adrienne M. McDonald, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendants.

          CALVIN L. SCOTT, JR., JUDGE

         Background

         Plaintiffs Scott and Danielle Stephenson bring this personal injury claim on behalf of themselves and their minor daughters, Ava and Lillian Stephenson, against Defendants Big Oaks Trailer Park, Inc. and Boyer's Tree Service.

         On July 3, 2015 Scott, Danielle, Ava, and Lillian Stephenson were camping at campsite PV-1 on the property of Big Oaks Campground. Plaintiffs allege that on or about 9:30 pm on July 3, 2015, a large tree limb from an oak tree near campsite PV-1 broke and fell into the Stephenson family's campground, bringing smaller tree limbs from a nearby hickory tree down with it. Plaintiffs allege that they were hit by some of the falling tree limbs and suffered physical and mental injuries as a result.

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Big Oaks Trailer Park, Inc. ("Defendant") acted negligently by failing to properly inspect, maintain, and remove trees on its property, creating an unsafe condition.[1] Plaintiffs assert that Defendant's negligence proximately caused the accident.[2] The complaint requests general and special damages for physical and mental injury, property damage, and loss of consortium in an amount to be determined by the jury.[3]

         Plaintiffs identified and submitted an expert report from their liability expert, Russell Carlson, on June 27, 2018.[4] Defendant now moves to exclude the testimony of Plaintiffs' liability expert. Concurrently, Defendant moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude the Testimony is GRANTED IN PART and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         Parties' Assertions

         On May 20, 2019, Defendant filed Defendant Big Oaks Trailer Park, Inc.'s Motion in Limine to Exclude the Testimony of Russell E. Carlson and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.[5] Defendant argues that Mr. Carlson is not qualified to offer testimony on the appropriate standard of care for campground management because he is an arborist and not a campground manager.[6] Defendant asks the Court to exclude Mr. Carlson's testimony.[7] Additionally, Defendant moves for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiffs have not provided sufficient evidence to support their prima facie case by failing to identify an appropriate liability expert witness.[8]

         On June 14, 2019, Plaintiffs filed Plaintiffs' Response to Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude the Testimony of Russell E. Carlson and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.[9] Responding to Defendant's motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs argue that expert testimony is not needed to establish the elements of duty and breach because the standard of care is a matter of common sense.[10] Responding to Defendant's motion in limine, Plaintiffs argue that Mr. Carlson's testimony will assist the jury in understanding how to assess the viability of the oak tree.[11] Plaintiffs ask the Court to deny both motions.[12]

         Standard of Review

         The Court may grant summary judgment 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 summary judgment as a matter of law."[13] The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that no material issues of fact are present.[14] Once such a showing is made, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there are material issues of fact in dispute.[15] In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the record in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[16] The Court will not grant summary judgment if it seems desirable to inquire more thoroughly into the facts in order to clarify the application of the law.[17]

         Discussion

         A. Defendant's Motion ...


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