PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge in Philadelphia dismissed a request for summary judgment from a Nebraska transportation company accused of negligence in a 2012 automobile accident.

On Nov. 18, Judge Petrese B. Tucker said plaintiffs Gary and Nina Williams prevailed over a motion for summary judgment from defendants U-Haul International, Inc., U-Haul Co. of California, Colusa Quick Market Service and K&B Transportation, Inc.

Plaintiffs Gary and Nina Williams are husband and wife, and citizens of Pennsylvania. On Feb. 29, 2012, Gary Williams began to drive a dark blue Chevrolet Trailblazer, with a U-Haul trailer in tow, home to Pennsylvania from his apartment in California. On March 2, 2012, during Williams’ road trip, a truck driven by Brian Sala collided with Williams’ vehicle, while both men were driving eastbound on Interstate Highway 80 in Henry County, Ill.

“At the time of the accident, Sala was employed by K&B and driving a 2006 Freightliner truck owned by K&B. Sala had a valid Illinois commercial driver’s license. After the accident, Williams retained no recollection of events from a period before and a few months after the accident. There were no witnesses to the accident; Sala is the only person with personal knowledge of the events. Williams alleges that he sustained serious and permanent injuries,” Tucker said.

The action was removed from the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Nov. 24, 2014, and the plaintiffs seek negligence-based damages from K&B.

It was then up to the Court to address the choice of law issue, then turn its attention to whether there sufficient evidence existed to establish a need for a trial. Tucker explained both parties disagreed as to which state’s law governed the case.

“This case was removed from state court based on diversity of citizenship. Plaintiffs are Pennsylvania residents and defendant is an Iowa corporation with its principal place of business in Nebraska. When a federal court has jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship, the court must apply the choice of law rules of the forum state,” Tucker said.

Tucker stated Pennsylvania’s choice of law analysis is “only necessary if there are relevant differences between the laws of two states”, and “if the relevant laws between two states are the same, no conflict exists, and the court applies the laws of the forum state.”

“The Court agrees with plaintiffs that no actual conflict exists and finds that Pennsylvania law governs. There are no relevant differences in Illinois’ and Pennsylvania’s substantive laws as it pertains to the negligence issues in this case,” Tucker said. “Both states adopt the same modified comparative negligence framework, require the same elements to establish negligence, and have the same vicarious liability rules for employers. Therefore, no conflict exists and the law of the forum state governs.”

Tucker outlined there “is sufficient evidence to support plaintiffs’ contentions that there is a genuine issue for trial on every element of their negligence claim.”

“There are numerous issues of fact, including, but not limited to: whether the time that Sala decreased his speed was reasonable given the upcoming hazard; whether Sala completed his lane change prior to impact; whether K&B properly monitored Sala; and whether Williams was himself negligent. Accordingly, the Court finds defendant has not sustained its burden of demonstrating that it is entitled to summary judgment,” Tucker said.

The plaintiffs are represented by of Alan M. Feldman, Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner & Weinstock, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Carlyle Washington Hall III and John F. Barwell II of Polsinelli P.C. in Phoenix, Ariz., plus Richard B. Wickersham Jr. of Post & Schell, Francis J. Grey Jr. and Mary Grace Maley of Ricci Tyrrell Johnson & Grey, Thomas J. Wagner and Amy L. Wynkoop of the Law Offices of Thomas J. Wagner, all in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 2:14-cv-06727

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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