United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
OSTEEN, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE.
Casimiro Graciano seeks recovery for personal injuries
suffered in a traffic accident. Plaintiff was operating a
tractor-trailer on March 1, 2016, in Surry County, North
Carolina, and was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer
operated by Defendant Michael Walker Daniels
(“Daniels”), who worked for Defendant Blue Sky
Logistics LLC (“Blue Sky”). On July 16, 2019,
this court held a bench trial. Plaintiff, Plaintiff's
counsel, and Defendants' counsel were present at trial.
Neither Defendant appeared for trial despite notice from this
court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law
regarding liability in open court following the trial,
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). This court
found in Plaintiff's favor as to liability, determining
that Daniels negligently operated a tractor-trailer by
failing to reduce speed to avoid an accident and, as a
result, crashed into the rear of Plaintiff's
tractor-trailer on March 1, 2016. This court will briefly
make additional findings of fact as to liability and then
proceed to damages.
written findings of fact and conclusions of law are issued
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). For the
following reasons, this court finds that Defendants are
liable for negligence and that Plaintiff is entitled to
recover damages in a total amount of $116, 897.91.
was a citizen and resident of Texas at the time of filing.
(Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. 1) ¶ 1.) Blue
Sky is a Utah corporation headquartered in Utah and Daniels
is a citizen of Nevada. (Id. ¶¶ 2-3.) The
amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. (Id.
¶ 4.) Venue is proper in the Middle District of North
Carolina because the accident occurred within the district.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).
alleges that Blue Sky is responsible for Daniels' actions
under the doctrine of respondeat superior. (Id.
¶¶ 41, 43, 60-62.) Defendants admit that Blue Sky
employed Daniels as a driver at the time of the accident.
(Pl.'s Ex. 12 ¶¶ 2, 4.)
JURISDICTION AND GOVERNING LAW
is based upon diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. §
1332. A federal court sitting in diversity jurisdiction
applies state substantive law and federal procedural law.
See Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 465-66 (1965);
Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 72-73, 79-80
(1938). A federal court sitting in North Carolina must use
North Carolina conflict of law rules. See, e.g., Klaxon
Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496-97
Carolina courts have consistently held “that matters
affecting the substantial rights of the parties are
determined by lex loci, the law of the situs of the claim . .
. . For actions sounding in tort, the state where the injury
occurred is considered the situs of the claim.”
Boudreau v. Baughman, 322 N.C. 331, 335, 368 S.E.2d
849, 853-54 (1988). Because damages are a substantive issue,
they must also be determined under the law of the state of
injury. See Tenn. Carolina Transp., Inc. v. Strick
Corp., 283 N.C. 423, 440, 196 S.E.2d 711, 722 (1973);
Stetser v. TAP Pharm. Prods., Inc., 165 N.C.App. 1,
15-16, 598 S.E.2d 570, 580-81 (2004).
vehicle accident and alleged injuries occurred in North
Carolina. Therefore, this court will apply North Carolina law
to determine both liability and damages.
the Federal Rules of Evidence provide that “[i]n a
civil case, state law governs the effect of a presumption
regarding a claim or defense for which state law supplies the
rule of decision.” Fed.R.Evid. 302. The Fourth Circuit
has recognized that some evidentiary rules straddle the line
between procedure and substance and “that a state
procedural rule must be followed in a diversity case if it is
intimately bound up with the state right or
obligation.” DiAntonio v. Northampton-Accomack
Mem'l Hosp., 628 F.2d 287, 291 (4th Cir. 1980)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also
Hottle v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 47 F.3d 106, 109-10
(4th Cir. 1995). Any North Carolina-specific evidentiary
presumptions that bear upon substantive state policy
decisions apply to this case.
court adopts and incorporates herein its findings made in
open court following the bench trial. This court found that
Daniels was negligent by failing to reduce speed to avoid a
collision. A negligence claim has four elements: “
defendants owed plaintiff a duty of care,  defendants'
conduct breached that duty;  the breach was the actual and
proximate cause of plaintiff's injury; and  damages
resulted from the injury.” Lamm v. Bissette Realty,
Inc., 327 N.C. 412, 416, 395 S.E.2d 112, 115 (1990). In
summary, Daniels was negligent in that he owed Plaintiff a
duty of reasonable care while operating his tractor-trailer;
he breached that duty by failing to reduce speed to avoid an
accident; and his negligence was the actual and proximate
cause of injury to Plaintiff resulting in damages. Blue Sky
admits that it employed Daniels at the time of the crash and
that Daniels was acting in the scope of his employment.
(Pl.'s Ex. 12 ¶¶ 2, 4.) An employer is liable
under respondeat superior for an employee's tortious act
“(1) when expressly authorized; (2) when committed
within the scope of his employment and in furtherance of his
master's business - when the act comes within his implied
authority; (3) when ratified by the principal.”
Snow v. De Butts, 212 N.C. 120, 193 S.E. 224, 226
(1937); see also Hogan v. Forsyth Country Club Co.,
79 N.C.App. 483, 491, 340 S.E.2d 116, 121-22 (1986). At the
time of the accident, Daniels was working in the scope of his
employment, in furtherance of Blue Sky's business, and
within his implied authority to drive trucks.
Sky and Daniels are jointly and severally liable for
Plaintiff's injuries arising from the March 1, 2016
principle dispute between the parties relates to damages.
Plaintiff contends that he is entitled to recover damages of
$360, 000.00. Defendants argue that they are liable for,
at most, $55, 000.00.
North Carolina, a plaintiff bears the burden of proving
“both that the medical attention [the plaintiff]
received was reasonably necessary for proper treatment of
[plaintiff's] injuries and that the charges made were
reasonable in amount.” Ward v. Wentz, 20
N.C.App. 229, 232, 201 S.E.2d 194, 197 (1973); see also
Jacobsen v. McMillan, 124 N.C.App. 128, 134- 35, 476
S.E.2d 368, 372 (1996). The plaintiff must also “show
that the medical records at issue reflect treatment of an
injury that was causally related to the alleged negligence of
the defendant.” Daniels v. Hetrick, 164
N.C.App. 197, 201, 595 S.E.2d 700, 703 (2004); see also
Gillikin v. Burbage, 263 N.C. 317, 324, 139 S.E.2d 753,
759 (1965) (“To hold a defendant responsible for a
plaintiff's injuries, defendant's negligence must
have been a substantial factor, that is, a proximate cause of
the particular injuries for which plaintiff seeks
recovery.”). A doctor may demonstrate the causal
connection of medical bills “by his own opinion, or by
testifying that he either relied on [certain] documents for
his diagnosis or that the documents reflect the work of
another medical professional to whom the plaintiff was
referred by him.” Daniels, 164 N.C.App. at
201, 595 S.E.2d at 703.
Gen. Stat. § 8-58.1 establishes a rebuttable presumption
that the amount of medical expenses is reasonable when the
injured party testifies regarding medical
bills.However, the statute requires that
“records or copies of such charges showing the amount
paid or required to be paid in full satisfaction of such
charges accompany such testimony.” N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 8-58.1(a). The statute also “establishes a
permissive presumption that [any] services provided were
reasonably necessary.” N.C. Gen. Stat. §
8-58.1(c). But “no presumption is established that the
services provided were necessary because of injuries caused
by the acts or omissions of an alleged tortfeasor.”
Id. While lay testimony is permitted to establish
causation in simple cases, “where the exact nature and
probable genesis of a particular type of injury involves
complicated medical questions . . ., only an expert can give
competent opinion evidence as to the cause of the
injury.” Click v. Pilot Freight Carriers,
Inc., 300 N.C. 164, 167, 265 S.E.2d 389, 391 (1980);
accord Peagler v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 138 N.C.App.
593, 598-601, 532 S.E.2d 207, 210-12 (2000) (finding that
expert testimony was required to show a connection between
the plaintiff's work accident and herniated disk).
damage categories are not in dispute. Plaintiff and
Defendants agree that Plaintiff is entitled to recover lost
wages of $16, 000.00. Further, Defendants concede that
Plaintiff is entitled to recover expenses associated with the
decompression surgery performed by Dr. Jose Dones-Vazquez
(“Dr. Dones”) on January 31, 2017, in the amount
of $13, 540.00. This court agrees that Plaintiff should
recover at least $29, 540.00 for lost wages and past medical
expenses. The remaining issues are disputed, in whole or in
Findings of Fact
court begins its analysis with relevant findings of fact and
will then proceed to legal analysis, ...