STATE OF MAINE KENNEBEC, ss. TALLINE BLAKESLEE, Plaintiff v. JESSICA A. CHRYSLER, e t al., Defendants
SUPERIOR COURT CIVIL ACTION DOCKET NO. CV-04-212
DECISION AND ORDER
T h s matter is before the court on Defendant Jessica Chrysler's motion for summary judgment. The present d spute arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville involving four vehcles. At approximately 10:30 on the morning of February 12, 2003, Plaintiff Talline M. Blakeslee ("Plaintiff" or "Blakeslee") was stopped in the roadway with her left-turn signal activated, waiting to turn into her place of employment. At that time and location, traffic was steady and other vehcles were passing around Blakeslee's vehicle to the right. Driving conditions, however, were less than pristine, as it was snowing lightly and the road was otherwise slushy. As she waited, Blakeslee noticed a v ehcle driven by Defendant Jessica Chrysler ("Defendanv or "Chrysler") approach from the rear. Chrysler's v ehcle came to a sudden, but complete stop a very short distance from Blakeslee's back bumper. W i h n seconds, though, the Plaintiff felt an impact into the rear of her car. Just prior to h s impact, a h r d vehcle driven by Defendant Amanda Exner ("Exner") struck Chrysler's v ehcle from b ehnd. Then, a fourth v ehcle driven by Defendant Danielle H ophns ("Hophns") impacted the rear of Exner's vehcle. Blakeslee, in her position at the front of h s line of vehcles, felt multiple collisions.
The Plaintiff filed the present complaint alleging that all three of the aboven amed Defendants were negligent and seelung damages. The Law Court has explained that: Summary judgment is no longer an extreme remedy. It is simply a procedural device for obtaining j udcial resolution of those matters that may be decided without fact-finding. Summary judgment is properly granted if the facts are not in dispute or, if the defendant has moved for summary judgment, the evidence favoring the plaintiff is insufficient to support a verdict for the plaintiff as a matter of law. Curtis v. Porter, 2001 ME 158, ¶ 7, 784 A.2d 18, 21-22. Summary judgment is proper if the citations to the record found in the parties' Rule 56(h) statements demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Dickinson v. Clark, 2001 ME 49, ¶ 4, 767 A.2d 303, 305. "A fact is material if it has the potential to affect the outcome of the case under governing law." Levine v. R.B.K. Caly Coy., 2001 ME 77, ¶ 4, n.3, 770 A.2d 653, 655, n.3 (citing Burdzel v. Sobus, 2000 ME 84,
750 A.2d 573, 575). "The invocation of the
summary judgment procedure does not permit the court to decide an issue of fact, but only to determine whether a genuine issue of fact exists. The Court cannot decide an issue of fact no matter how improbable seem the opposing party's chances of prevailing at trial." Searles v. Trustees of St. Joseph's College, 1997 ME 128, 9 6, 695 A.2d 1206, 1209 (quoting Tallwood Land & Dev. Co. v. Botka, 352 A.2d 753, 755 (Me. 1976)). To avoid a judgment as a matter of law for a defendant, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case for each element of her cause of action. See Fleming v. Gardner, 658 A.2d 1074, 1076 (Me.
The Defendant asserts that based on the uncontroverted facts before the Court, she did not cause, and therefore cannot be held liable for Blakeslee's damages stemming from the accident. In particular, Chrysler draws the Court's attention to the fact that
she was able to stop without h tting the Plaintiff's v ehcle. Moreover, the Defendant notes that several seconds passed after completing her stop before Exner's v ehcle struck her in the rear. Chrysler maintains that her mere involvement in a chain reaction collision does not make her liable for resulting damage. Additionally, the Defendant states that where the Court can find as a matter of law that no duty was violated, the question of whether a driver was negligent should not be submitted to the jury. Chrysler asserts that there is only one rule of the road that is possibly relevant to the question of duty in tlus case. The provision, found in 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2066, reads as follows: 1. P rohbition. An operator of a v ehcle may not follow another v ehcle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles, the traffic and the condition of the way.. .. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2066 (2004). The Defendant also notes that the Law Court has held that an operator of an automobile must drive at such a speed that he can bring his automobile to a stop in the distance illuminated by h s headlights. See Scammon v. City
of Saco, 247 A.2d 108 (Me. 1968). Chrysler contends that since she was able to come to a
stop without impacting the Plaintiff's vehcle, she must have been operating her v ehcle i n a reasonable and prudent manner. In response, the Plaintiff criticizes Chrysler's suggestion that simply because she stopped, however short or sudden, she is relieved of responsibility. Blakeslee further states that if Chrysler's view of section 2066 and the Scammon case is correct, then neither Chrysler nor any other operator would have to stop for a v ehcle ahead of them at all if the other v ehcle were witlun the range of their headlights. To the contrary, the Plaintiff maintains that operators must consider the speed of other vehcles, the traffic, and the condition of the road and may not follow more closely than is reasonable under the circumstances. Based upon the facts at bar, the Plaintiff contends that Chrysler
violated tlus rule of the road by following too closely and stopping too suddenly, causing Exnerls v ehcle to strike hers. The Plaintiff also notes that pursuant to 29-A M.R.S.A.5 2071(3), a n operator of a motor v ehcle may not stop or suddenly decrease a v ehclels speed without first giving
an appropriate signal to the operator of a v ehcle immediately to the rear. Based upon
the facts, Blakeslee contends that the Defendant also violated tlus rule of the road In addition, Blakeslee notes that 29-A M.R.S.A. 5 2074 obligates drivers to operate at a careful and prudent speed not greater than is reasonable and proper, having due regard for the traffic, surface and width of the way and of other conditions then existing. Thus, despite the existence of a posted speed limit, the conditions of traffic, visibility and weather may reduce the speed at w h c h individuals exercising reasonable care may travel. See Reed v . Rule, 376 A.2d 445 (Me. 1977). The Plaintiff asserts that the question of whether a particular speed under the surrounding circumstances was negligent and the proximate cause of an accident are ordinarily questions of fact for a jury. See Feely v. Morton, 149 Me. 119, 99 A.2d 285 (1953). Therefore, Blakeslee argues that under the facts presented, summary judgment should be denied. In light of the undisputed facts1, it is clear that the Defendant was under a duty to operate her vehicle in a reasonable and prudent manner, having due regard for traffic and road conditions then existin$. See 29-A M.R.S.A.
2066 & 2074. Moreover,
whether an operator was negligent and whether such negligence was the proximate cause of an accident are ordmarily questions of fact for a jury. See Feely v. Morton, 99
Note that paragraphs 1 4 t hru 1 9 of Plaintiff's statement of additional material facts all state legal conclusions and/ or are unsupported by the given record citations, and must therefore be disregarded. 2 Blakeslee has not set forth any evidence from w h c h a reasonable jury could conclude that Chrysler breached a duty to properly signal to following vehicles before coming to a sudden stop. All of the evidence presented on this point supports a conclusion that Chrysler's brake lights were in fact illuminated prior to the collision. 29-A M.R.S.A. 5 2071(3) indicates that no duty is breached when a driver signals velucles to the rear wlule bralung, even if the decrease in speed is sudden.
A.2d 285 (Me. 1953). In response to Chrysler's motion, the Plaintiff has presented evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that the Defendant breached her duty of care, and that said breach was, at least in part, the proximate cause of her damages. The issue is a very close one and there is a great deal of merit in Chrysler's position on her motion. Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, however, it would be a rare occasion to remove consideration of the comparison of the activities of various parties to an accident from a jury. On the other hand, if, on the development of testimony as part of Plaintiff's direct case, there is clearly no reasonable evidence that Defendant Chrysler breached her duty of due care toward Plaintiff, the matter is always subject to a motion for judgment when Plaintiff rests. Suffice it to say at &us point, as Chrysler is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the undisputed material facts before the Court, her motion for summary judgment must be denied. The entry will be: Defendant Jessica A. Chrysler's motion for summary judgment is DENIED.
,2005 Donald H. Marden Justice, Superior Court
TALL1K.E M BBWCESLEE
Attorney for: TALLINE M BLAKESLEE SHIRO & SHIRO LAW OFFICES 86 SILVER STREET PO BOX 706 WATERVILLE ME 04903-0706
SUPERIOR COURT KENNEBEC, ss . Docket No AUGSC-CV-2004-00212
vs JESSICA A CHRYSLER - DEFENDANT 3 SHERWIN STREET WATERVILLE ME 04901 Attorney for: JESSICA A CHRYSLER MICHAEL RAIR - RETAINED LAW OFFICE OF MICHAEL L. RAIR 43 COLUMBIA STREET SUITE ONE PO BOX 2580 BANGOR ME 04402-2580 AMANDA EXNER - DEFENDANT 80 TYLER ROAD ALBION ME 04910 DANIELLE HOPKINS - DEFENDANT 6 SOUTH COURT STREET VASSALBORO ME 04989 Attorney for: DANIELLE HOPKINS J WILLIAM DRUARY JR - RETAINED MARDEN DUBORD ET AL PO BOX 708 44 ELM STREET WATERVILLE ME 04901-0708
Filing Document: COMPLAINT Filing Date: 09/08/2004
Minor Case Type: OTHER CIVIL
09/20/2004 TRANSFER - PERMANENT TRANSFER ED1 ON 09/20/2004 @ 22:Ol TRANSFERRED CASE: SENDING COURT CASEID WATDCCV200400172 FILING DOCUMENT - COMPLAINT FILED ON 09/08/2004 ATTORNEY
RETAINED ENTERED ON 09/08/2004
Party (s): TALLINE M BLAKESLEE DISCOVERY FILING - NOTIFICATION DISCOVERY SERVICE FILED ON 09/08/2004 09/20/2004 Party(s) : JESSICA A CHRYSLER RESPONSIVE PLEADING - ANSWER FILED ON 09/07/2004 COPY TO SHIRO Party (s): DANIELLE HOPKINS SUMMONS/SERVICE - CIVIL SUMMONS SERVED ON 08/19/2004
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