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George E. Sabb v. Patrick G. Mcginnity

March 31, 2011

GEORGE E. SABB, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PATRICK G. MCGINNITY, KAZIMIERA J. BAJEK, ROBERT SWIERSZCZ, STEPHANIE C. JONES, AND GAINEY TRANSPORTATION SERVICES,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This negligence action comes before the Court on a motion for summary judgment. On April 21, 2007, two motor vehicle accidents occurred on the 16W exit ramp of the New Jersey Turnpike. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ¶ 1.) The first impact was a head-on collision between defendant Patrick McGinnity ("McGinnity"), who was traveling the wrong way on the exit ramp, and defendant Kazimiera Bajek-Swierszcz ("Swierszcz"), who was traveling in the left lane. (Id. ¶ 2.)Subsequently, plaintiff George Sabb ("Sabb"), who was traveling in the left lane immediately behind Swierszcz, swerved into the right lane to avoid hitting her. (Id. ¶ 3.) When he moved into the right lane, Sabb collided with a tractor-trailer driven by defendant Stephanie Jones ("Jones") for Gainey Transportation Services ("Gainey"). (Id.)

I. Introduction

Sabb filed suit in state court, claiming that, as a result of the other drivers' negligence, he suffered serious physical injuries to his lower back and left shoulder that will require continuous and expensive treatment. (Compl.; D.E. 1-1.) The defendants removed to this Court [D.E. 1], and Jones and Gainey now move for summary judgment [D.E. 29], arguing that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Jones acted negligently. (Moving Br.) Jones and Gainey assert that, even when viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Sabb, he has not shown sufficient evidence to establish negligence or a spoliation of evidence claim.

II. Discussion

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) provides that summary judgment shall be granted when, in light of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and affidavits, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. An issue of fact is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). As such, the existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat a motion for summary judgment; the factual dispute must be genuine. Id. at 247--48. If the evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Id. at 249--50. When analyzing a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The moving party must present evidence that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the nonmoving party must then respond with specific facts to show a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.

B. Negligence Standard

Sabb alleges that Jones was careless, reckless, and dangerous when operating her vehicle and that her negligence caused his injuries. (Compl. Fourth Count.) "In this action brought in federal court in New Jersey on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, New Jersey state law supplies the substantive legal principles against which a party's entitlement to a judgment in its favor must be assessed." Foodtown Inc. v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., 2011 WL 37816, at *1 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1373 n.15 (3d Cir.1996)).

To establish negligence under New Jersey law, Sabb has the burden of proof to show that Jones failed to meet the reasonable care standard-namely, that she failed to exercise the degree of care and precaution that a reasonably prudent person would exercise under the circumstances. McKinley v. Slenderella Sys. of Camden, N.J., Inc., 63 N.J. Super 571, 579 (App. Div. 1960); see also Hochman v. Karpenski, 325 N.J. Super. 460, 465 (App. Div. 1999) (stating that in an automobile accident case, "[t]he standard of care is reasonable prudence to avoid injury to another"). In determining what conduct is reasonable, the New Jersey Supreme Court has noted that the "amount of care demanded . . . must be in proportion to the apparent risk." Harpell v. Public Service Coord. Transport, 20 N.J. 309, 316 (1956). In order to survive this motion for summary judgment, Sabb must point to evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Jones failed to exercise the degree of care a reasonably prudent person would have under the circumstances.

Gainey's liability rests on a theory of vicarious liability. New Jersey adheres to the Restatement of Agency for the vicarious liability standard. O'Toole v. Carr, 175 N.J. 421, 425 (2003). As such, an employer is liable for an employee's negligence when the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment. Carter v. Reynolds, 175 N.J. 402, 408--09 (2003) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Agency § 219 (1958)). The parties agree that Jones was driving the truck within the scope of her employment, but Gainey is liable only if Sabb sufficiently shows that Jones's negligent conduct caused his injuries. See Hummers v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 8 N.J. Misc. 689, 690 (N.J. Sup. Ct. 1930).

C. Does a Genuine Issue of Material Fact Exist as to Jones's Negligence?

Sabb contends that there are genuine issues of fact as to who hit whom and whether Jones's truck was moving ...


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