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Auto-Owners Insurance v. Aspas

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 27, 2018

AUTO-OWNERS INSURANCE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PAUL ASPAS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David J. Hale, Judge.

         Angela Burton was driving on an interstate highway when two tires disengaged from Paul Aspas's semi-tractor truck and collided with her car. (Docket No. 138, PageID # 870) The day before, Valley Tire Company had performed maintenance on Aspas's truck but failed to properly secure the tires. (Id.) After the accident, Burton experienced cervical spine pain and elected to have a cervical fusion because other forms of treatment did not eliminate her discomfort. (Id., PageID # 870-73) Burton brought this negligence action seeking damages from Valley Tire for her past and future medical expenses, including her cervical fusion; past and future physical pain and suffering; future impairment; and increased risk of future complications.[1] (Id., PageID # 873)

         Valley Tire has filed two motions for partial summary judgment, arguing that Burton has not shown causation with respect to the cervical fusion, future medical bills, future medical treatment, future physical pain and suffering, and future impairment. (D.N. 135, PageID # 690; D.N. 136, PageID # 812) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Valley Tire's first motion and grant in part and deny in part Valley Tire's second motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In January 2014, Valley Tire changed the tires on Aspas's truck but did not properly secure the lug nuts holding the tires in place. (D.N. 135, PageID # 691) The next day, while Aspas was driving on Interstate 65, the tires detached from the truck and struck Burton's vehicle, injuring her and her passenger. (D.N. 19, PageID # 103) Valley Tire does not dispute that the accident was caused by its employee's failure to properly secure the tires. (D.N. 135)

         Following the accident, Burton experienced neck, lower back, and shoulder pain. (D.N. 138, PageID # 870). She first began seeing Dr. Nathan Unterseher, a chiropractor, who treated her through March 2014. (Id.) Burton specifically complained of cervical spine pain. (Id.) Over the course of her treatments with Dr. Unterseher, Burton's condition improved, but her pain was still present. (D.N. 138-1, PageID # 923, 939)

         Next, Burton sought treatment from Dr. Cary Guse, an orthopedic surgeon she saw from April 2014 through July 2014. (D.N. 138, PageID # 871) Burton reported similar discomfort to Dr. Guse but denied cervical spine pain. (D.N. 138, PageID # 871; D.N. 138-2, PageID # 948) Burton's pain continued to decrease throughout her course of treatment with Dr. Guse. (D.N. 138, PageID # 871; D.N. 138-2, PageID # 958, 959)

         In October 2014, however, Burton's pain resurfaced, so she started seeing Dr. John Chambers. (D.N. 138, PageID # 871-72) Dr. Chambers concluded that her pain was consistent with cervical radiculopathy and ordered a transforaminal injection (an outpatient procedure where the patient receives a combined anesthetic and steroid shot into the nerves along the cervical spine), administered by Dr. Arman Borhan, to alleviate the pain. (Id.; D.N. 135-2, PageID # 768; D.N. 138-2, PageID # 961, 966) The injection did not eliminate Burton's cervical pain, and so in January 2015, she elected to have Dr. Chambers perform an operation on the C5-C6 portion of her cervical spine (the “cervical fusion”). (D.N. 138, PageID # 872)

         Following her operation, Burton filed this negligence action against Aspas and his employer, Landstar Inway, Inc. (D.N. 1) After learning through discovery of Valley Tire's maintenance of Aspas's truck, Burton added Valley Tire as a defendant. (D.N. 19) Burton later settled her claims against Aspas and Landstar. (D.N. 114) Burton now seeks damages from Valley Tire for past and future medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering, future impairment of power to labor and earn money, and increased risk of future complications as well as punitive damages. (D.N. 144)

         Valley Tire then filed two motions for partial summary judgment. (D.N. 135; D.N. 136) In its first motion, Valley Tire argues that Burton has not presented evidence showing a causal link between the accident and her cervical fusion. (D.N. 135) Valley Tire's second motion contends that Burton has also failed to show causation with respect to future medical expenses, future pain and suffering, and future impairment. (D.N. 136)

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[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) (internal citation omitted); see also LaPointe v. United Autoworkers Local 600, 8 F.3d 376, 378 (6th Cir. 1993). The movant may do so by merely showing that the nonmoving party lacks evidence to support an essential element of her case for which she has the burden of proof. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party is not required to support its motion with materials negating the opponent's claim. Id.

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, “the court must view the factual evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Banks v. Wolfe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 330 F.3d 888, 892 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). However, the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The nonmoving party “must present some affirmative evidence supporting its position to defeat an otherwise appropriate motion for summary judgment.” Tucker v. Tennessee, 539 F.3d 526, 531 (6th Cir. 2008). If a plaintiff fails to establish the existence of any element of her claim, there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Valley Tire's Motions Are Not Premature

         Burton first argues that Valley Tire's motions are premature because Valley Tire did not depose Burton's experts. (D.N. 138, PageID # 877; D.N. 139, PageID # 1025) However, Valley Tire's decision does not make the motions for partial summary judgment untimely. Again, the moving party has no duty to support its motion with materials negating the nonmoving party's claim. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Although Valley Tire had the responsibility to inform the Court of the portions of the record it believed demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, Valley Tire was not required to depose any of Burton's witnesses in order to do so. Id. Valley Tire supported its motions by identifying gaps in the evidence surrounding causation of the cervical fusion and future damages. (D.N. 135; D.N. 136) Further, Burton cites no authority in support of her assertion that Valley Tire must depose her expert witnesses before seeking summary judgment. (See D.N. 138; D.N. 139) The Court thus will not deny Valley Tire's motions on this ground.

         B. Causation of ...


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