United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on defendant's motion for
partial summary judgment (DE 37). The motion has been fully
briefed, and in this posture the issues presented are ripe
for ruling. For reasons noted, the motion is granted.
OF THE CASE
December 24, 2014, defendant J.L. Robinson
(“Robinson”) was driving a passenger bus in the
course of his employment with defendant Greyhound Lines, Inc.
(“Greyhound”) along the route from Atlanta,
Georgia, through Raleigh, North Carolina, to Richmond,
Virginia. On the same day, plaintiff David Christopher
Justice (“David”) was working as a North Carolina
Highway Patrol trooper in the area of Interstate 40/85
(“I-40/85”) near Mebane, North Carolina and near
mile marker 155. David was called to that area to respond to
a traffic accident, and, in the course of his response, David
parked his marked Chevrolet Tahoe in the eastbound lane of
I-40/85. Just after 10:00 a.m., the bus Robinson was driving
crashed into David's Tahoe, injuring David.
initiated this action in the General Court of Justice,
Superior Court Division for Wake County, North Carolina
February 17, 2016. Defendants removed the action to this
court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction March 28, 2016.
In the first claim for relief, plaintiff David seeks
compensation for his injuries. In the second claim for
relief, plaintiff Lisa Justice (“Lisa”),
David's wife, seeks compensation for loss of consortium.
In the third claim for relief, hinged upon plaintiffs first
and second claims, and as repeated in paragraph three of the
prayer for relief, plaintiffs seek punitive damages premised
upon allegation that actions of either or both defendants
were willful or wanton. Plaintiffs seek recovery on all
claims against both defendants.
period of discovery, defendants filed the instant motion for
partial summary judgment directed against plaintiffs'
asserted entitlement to punitive damages. In support,
defendants rely upon depositions of plaintiff David,
defendant Robinson, Michael Maddox, and Ernest Warren
(“Warren”); Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of defendant
Greyhound given via Paulette Banks and Alan Smith; and
training materials used by Greyhound including
Greyhound's 2014 Fall “Stay Sharp” classroom
materials, Greyhound safety bulletins, and “Prepared
for Work” policy. In opposition, plaintiffs rely upon
the same evidence, and, in addition, Robinson's daily
logs and calculation of driving hours; a vehicle examination
report created by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol;
expert report of William Kluge; an affidavit executed by
Warren; excerpts from Robinson's personnel file; an
onboard video captured by cameras mounted in the bus; and a
transcript of Robinson's guilty plea in a related
criminal matter to charges of failure to reduce speed,
reckless driving to endanger, and failure to move over for a
stopped emergency vehicle causing injury.
OF THE UNDISPUTED FACTS
undisputed facts viewed in the light most favorable to
plaintiffs may be summarized as follows. On December 24,
2014, a series of traffic accidents occurred on eastbound
I-40/85, which required emergency assistance. (Defs.'
Ans., DE 7 ¶ 10). On that day, plaintiff David arrived
at the scene in his marked North Carolina State Highway
Patrol Chevrolet Tahoe. (DE 39 ¶ 1). David parked his
Tahoe in the far right lane. (Id. ¶ 2).
same morning, defendant Robinson, in the course of his
employment with defendant Greyhound, was driving a Greyhound
bus on the route from Atlanta, Georgia, through Raleigh,
North Carolina, to Richmond, Virginia. (DE 7 ¶ 17). Just
after 10:00 a.m., as the bus neared Mebane, North Carolina,
Robinson was traveling in the far right lane of eastbound
I-40/85, and crashed into David's Tahoe. (Id.
posted speed limit at the accident scene was 65 miles per
hour. (DE 7 ¶ 26). At the time of accident, defendant
Robinson was speeding by driving with cruise control set to
68 miles per hour. (Banks Dep., DE 44-2 at 57:21). In its
internal review of the accident, defendant Greyhound assessed
that the accident was preventible, and that factors including
road conditions, weather, speed, and other distractions
contributed to the accident. (Id. at 50:22-24). In
adverse weather conditions, Greyhound's “standard
is to decrease speed by 25 percent” relative to the
posted speed limit. (DE 44-3 at 36:16-21).
defendants concede that weather conditions contributed to the
accident, defendants do not concede specifically that it was
raining nor that defendant Robinson was driving too fast for
conditions. Upon the court's review of the dash cam
video, which captures the moment of accident itself and
approximately 10 seconds before and after, it is readily
apparent from observable total cloud cover and obvious
presence of water droplets on the camera lens that it was
raining either at the time of accident or shortly before, but
the video's resolution is limited and the camera
partially is obfuscated by water droplets. (See DE
44-15). Although Banks states at deposition that defendant
Robinson informed her of “heavy rains[, ]”
Banks's discussion of Robinson's account of the
weather does not disclose any specific admission by Robinson
that it was raining at the time and location of accident. (DE
44-2 at 50:14-17). No discussion of rain appears in excerpts
of Robinson's deposition testimony presented to the
court. (See Robinson Dep., DE 40-4; 44-4).
time of accident, defendant Robinson was driving in violation
of a rule promulgated under the Federal Motor Vehicle Carrier
Act (“FMCA”) limiting driving time for a
commercial bus driver to no more than 70 hours in any
eight-day period (“70-hour rule”). (DE 39 ¶
5). Robinson's violation of the 70-hour rule is traceable
to a mathematical error entered on Robinson time log December
4, 2014, whereby Robinson failed to record 3.75 hours of
driving. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7). Robinson was not
in violation of another rule promulgated under the FMCA
regulating the number of driving hours allowable in a single
day. (DE 43 ¶ 10).
defendant Greyhound requires all drivers to undergo fatigue
management training at least every two years, and Greyhound
maintains a program called “Stay Sharp” that
addresses driver fatigue. (DE 43 ¶ 12). Greyhound has
prepared a “Prepared for Work” policy and issues
safety bulletins to its drivers that also address fatigue
issues. (Id. ¶ 14). Defendant Robinson had
undergone his bi-annual “Stay Sharp” training in
October or November of 2014. (Id. ¶ 15).
Greyhound receives periodic reports on the rate of accuracy
of its driver's logs, which disclose consistently that
more than 99 percent of driver logs accurately reflect a
driver's hours. (Id. ¶ 16).