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Faith v. Warsame

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

March 25, 2019



          Charles R. Simpson III, United States District Court Senior Judge

         I. Introduction

         This case is before the Court on Defendants Mohamed S. Warsame[1] and Shiidaad Trucking Corporation's motion for partial summary judgment. DN 15. Plaintiff Jeanelle Faith responded. DN 16. Defendants replied. DN 16. Therefore, this matter is ripe for review. Finding that Faith has failed to come forward with evidence sufficient to prevail on her claim for punitive damages, the Court will grant partial summary judgment to Defendants on that issue.

         II. Legal Standard

         A party moving for summary judgment must show 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). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A genuine issue for trial exists when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. In undertaking this analysis, the Court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the nonexistence of any issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). They can meet this burden by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or “showing that the materials cited do not establish the . . . presence of a genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). This burden can also be met by demonstrating that the nonmoving party “fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         When considering a motion for summary judgment, “a trial judge must bear in mind the actual quantum and quality of proof necessary to support liability.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254. As a result, when the underlying claim requires “clear and convincing evidence, ” summary judgment is proper if a plaintiff fails to present evidence sufficient for a “rational finder of fact” to find such “clear and convincing” evidence. Id. See also Compuware Corp. v. Moody's Investors Servs., Inc., 499 F.3d 520, 525 (6th Cir. 2007).

         III. Factual Background

         The basic outline of the case is undisputed. On May 10, 2017, at approximately 10:19 AM, Warsame was driving a tractor trailer northbound off of Interstate 264 and onto 32nd Street in Louisville, Kentucky. DN 1-1 at 2; DN 14-2 at 1. In doing so, he was acting as an employee of Shiidaad Trucking. DN 1-1 at 2; DN 14-2 at 2. As he reached the intersection with River Park Drive, Warsame drove through the intersection, ignoring a clearly posted stop sign. DN 1-1 at 2-3; DN 14-1 at 2. In doing so, Warsame did not yield the right-of-way to Faith, as required by law, and was negligent in doing so. DN 1-1 at 3; DN 14-1 at 2. See Ky. Rev. Stat. § 189.330(4); Ky. Rev. Stat. § 189.290. According to Faith's tendered expert, Warsame was traveling between 25.6 and 27 miles per hour. DN 11-1 at 47. After impact, he pushed Faith's vehicle approximately 70.43 feet northward, coming to rest on the shoulder or 32nd Street. Id. at 46.

         IV. Discussion

         Defendants seek summary judgment on only Faith's punitive damages claim.[2] In Kentucky, punitive damages are available where a plaintiff proves, by “clear and convincing evidence, ” that the defendant acted with gross negligence, i.e., “negligence [which] was accompanied by wanton or reckless disregard for the lives, safety, or property of others.” Gibson v. Fuel Transp., Inc., 410 S.W.3d 56, 59 (Ky. 2013). See also Ky. Rev. Stat. § 411.184. The Supreme Court of Kentucky has had the opportunity to opine on the importance of limiting the availability of punitive damages in automobile accident cases:

Nearly all auto accidents are the result of negligent conduct, though few are sufficiently reckless as to amount to gross negligence, authorizing punitive damages. We are of the opinion that punitive damages should be reserved for truly gross negligence as seen in cases such as Shortridge v. Rice, 929 S.W.2d 194 (Ky. Ct. App. 1996), Stewart v. Estate of Cooper, 102 S.W.3d 913 (Ky. 2003), and Phelps v. Louisville Water Company, 103 S.W.3d 46 (Ky. 2003). In Shortridge and Stewart, the defendant tortfeasors were driving while intoxicated; and, in Phelps, the jury was presented with eighteen instances where Louisville Water Co. misrepresented the dangerous nature of a highway condition, violated its own safety policies, and disregarded the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, all of which evidenced a conscious disregard for public safety.

Kinney v. Butcher, 131 S.W.3d 357, 359 (Ky. Ct. App. 2004). Outside of Shortridge, Stewart, and Phelps, Kentucky has been reticent to go further in expanding the availability of punitive damages related to automobile accidents. See Gersh v. Bowman, 239 S.W.3d 567, 572 (Ky. Ct. App. 2007) (a jury could find gross negligence when the driver was traveling at least thirty-four miles per hour over the speed limit going into a curve, with two passengers in the vehicle, when it was dark outside, and when a passenger warned the driver of the upcoming curve in the road and the driver said “yeah, I got it”).

         In opposing the motion for summary judgment, Faith argues that punitive damages are available because Warsame admitted he was reckless, Shiidaad intentionally lost or sold the tractor trailer involved in the collision, and Warsame willfully disregarded laws, ...

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