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Taylor v. Clarke Power Services

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 1, 2017

MARIANA ALVARADO TAYLOR
v.
CLARKE POWER SERVICES ET AL.

         SECTION I

          ORDER AND REASONS

          VLANCE M. AFRICK UNITED STATES/DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by plaintiff Mariana Alvarado Taylor regarding the liability of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (“Bridgestone”), Crescent Crown Distributing (“CCD”), Amerit Fleet Solutions (“Amerit”), and the decedent Rahn Taylor, Sr. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I.

         On July 22, 2015, Rahn Taylor, Sr. was killed in an automobile crash on Interstate 12 between Lacombe and Slidell, Louisiana. At the time of the accident, Mr. Taylor was driving a tractor-trailer owned by his employer, CCD, which had contracted with VehiCare for the inspection and maintenance of its tractor-trailer fleet. The crash allegedly resulted from a sudden tire failure on the right front steering axle. Bridgestone manufactured the failing tire.

         Mr. Taylor's wife brought the present lawsuit on behalf of herself and her minor children claiming that VehiCare was negligent in failing to properly inspect and maintain the tractor-trailer driven by her husband at the time of his death. She also asserted products liability claims against Bridgestone, which have apparently been settled.

         Specifically, Mrs. Taylor alleges that VehiCare assumed a duty to monitor CCD's fleet; that it conducted an initial fleet inspection but failed to follow up on what it learned as a result of this inspection; that it failed to fulfill its duty to set up a 90-day preventive maintenance inspection schedule and to conduct a preventive maintenance inspection of the tractor-trailer driven by Mr. Taylor; and that it failed to replace the tire that blew on the day of Mr. Taylor's accident.[1]

         Mrs. Taylor contends that these failures, among others, render VehiCare solely liable for Mr. Taylor's death. Accordingly, she seeks judgment as a matter of law that fault cannot be apportioned to (1) Bridgestone, which manufactured the failing tire; (2) Amerit, which oversaw maintenance of CCD's fleet prior to VehiCare; (3) CCD, which employed Mr. Taylor and ostensibly loaded his tractor-trailer and dispatched it for delivery prior to his crash; and/or (4) Mr. Taylor, who was operating the tractor-trailer at the time of the accident. VehiCare opposes Mrs. Taylor's motion and argues that, under comparative fault principles, liability for Mr. Taylor's accident may be apportioned to each of the aforementioned entities.

         II.

         A.

         Summary judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, the court determines that there is no genuine dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment need not produce evidence negating the existence of material fact, but need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the other party's case. Id.; Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1195 (5th Cir. 1986).

         Once the party seeking summary judgment carries its burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The showing of a genuine issue is not satisfied by creating “‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ' by ‘conclusory allegations, ' by ‘unsubstantiated assertions, ' or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, a genuine issue of material fact exists when the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Although the substance or content of the evidence submitted to support or dispute a fact on summary judgment must be admissible . . ., the material may be presented in a form that would not, in itself, be admissible at trial.” Lee v. Offshore Logistical and Transp., LLC, 859 F.3d 353, 355 (5th Cir. 2017) (quotation omitted).

         The party responding to the motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the pleadings but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The nonmoving party's evidence, however, “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmoving party's] favor.” Id. at 255; see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999).

         B.

         Louisiana law provides that

[i]n any action for damages where a person suffers injury, death, or loss, the degree or percentage of fault of all persons causing or contributing to the injury, death, or loss shall be determined, regardless of whether the person is a party to the action or a nonparty, and regardless of the person's insolvency, ability to pay, immunity by statute . . . or that the other person's identity is not known or reasonably ascertainable. If a person suffers injury, death, or loss as the result partly of his own negligence and partly as a result of the fault of another person or persons, the amount of damages recoverable shall be reduced in proportion to the degree or percentage of negligence attributable to the person suffering the injury, death, or loss.

La. Civ. Code art. 2323(A). This statute applies “to any claim for recovery of damages for injury, death, or loss asserted under any law or legal doctrine or theory of liability, regardless of the basis of liability.” La. Civ. Code art. 2323(B). Furthermore, when a defendant urges the liability of non-parties, it falls to him to establish that liability. Haney v. Francewar, 588 So.2d 1172 (La. Ct. App. 1st Cir. 1991). In the summary judgment context, this requires the defendant to “to point to some record evidence demonstrating a contested issue of material fact.” Augman v. Seacor Marine, LLC, No. 07-cv-1508, 2007 WL 4326910, at *1 (E.D. La. Dec. 6, 2007) (Vance, J.).

         III.

         Mrs. Taylor contends that fault may not be apportioned to Bridgestone, Amerit, CCD, or Mr. Taylor. The Court considers her arguments with respect to each of these entities in turn.

         A.

         The parties do not dispute that Bridgestone manufactured the tire that failed on the tractor-trailer operated by Mr. Taylor. They do dispute, however, whether a manufacturing defect in the tire contributed to Mr. Taylor's accident. VehiCare notes that both its expert and Mrs. Taylor's expert have identified manufacturing defects in the tire.[2] VehiCare's tire expert, Richard Sherman, observed that

[t]he pull towards the passenger side [Mr.] Taylor mentioned . . . is consistent with a tire's behavior due to conicity. Conicity occurs when the belt package and carcass centerlines are not centered with each other during the assembly of the tire. The behavior of the tire as it rolls would be akin to a Styrofoam cup rolling on its side. The misaligned belts would cause a tire to roll to the left or right like a cone on a flat surface. In addition to a pull, a tire with conicity will experience rapid tread wear in one shoulder of the tire relative to the opposite side. Also, tires with conicity will cause one sidewall to flex more and generate rubber reversion and subsequent delamination of the internal components. The [] tire contained evidence of component separations indicating a manufacturing issue.[3]

         Similarly, Mrs. Taylor's tire expert, Brian Darr, cited possible manufacturing defects in the tire. He stated that

[t]he accident sequence was consistent with being initiated by a tread and outer belt separation failure of the [] right front tire that occurred in the left lane near the center line. The tread and outer belt separation resulted in the tire violently deflating (blowout). This caused increased drag on the right front position ...

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