Deines v. Atlas Energy Servs., LLC, Court of Appeals No. 19CA2021

Docket NºCourt of Appeals No. 19CA2021
Citation484 P.3d 798
Case DateFebruary 25, 2021

484 P.3d 798

Grantland DEINES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
ATLAS ENERGY SERVICES, LLC ; Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; Consolidated Divisions, Inc., d/b/a CDI Environmental Contractor; and Mario Fernandez-Tapia, Defendants-Appellees.

Court of Appeals No. 19CA2021

Colorado Court of Appeals, Division VII.

Announced February 25, 2021

Ramos Law, Brian Hugen, Wheat Ridge, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant

Darling Milligan PC, Jason B. Wesoky, D.J. Marcus, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee Atlas Energy Services, LLC

Holland & Hart LLP, Stephen G. Masciocchi, Jessica M. Schmidt, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

Montgomery Amatuzio Chase Bell Jones LLP, Max K. Jones, Jr., Denver, Colorado; The Morrow Law Firm, LLC, William Tobias Morrow, Eastlake, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees Consolidated Divisions, Inc. and Mario Fernandez-Tapia


¶ 1 In this personal injury action, we review the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, Atlas Energy Services, LLC; Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; Consolidated Divisions, Inc. (CDI), and Mario Fernandez-Tapia. The district court determined that defendants’ alleged negligence in causing 1,000 gallons of hazardous liquid to spill onto a highway was not, as a matter of law, the proximate cause of the injuries sustained by plaintiff, Grantland Deines, who was rear-ended approximately forty minutes later, as he came to a stop in a line of traffic being diverted off the highway to a nearby exit.

¶ 2 On appeal, Deines says that the district court erred in resolving the case on summary judgment, because the issue of proximate cause should have gone to the jury. We agree. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background1

¶ 3 On a December night in 2017, Mario Fernandez-Tapia, driving a truck

484 P.3d 801

owned by Atlas or CDI, was traveling eastbound on Interstate 76 near the town of Hudson. At about 6:20 p.m., town officials received a report of a hazardous material spill on the highway. By 6:40 p.m., officials had closed both lanes of I-76 and were diverting traffic to an exit located about three-tenths of a mile from the spill.

¶ 4 Cars began to back up on the highway. Fifteen minutes after the highway closure, Deines approached the scene. He noticed an oncoming car flash its lights and an emergency vehicle drive by, so he turned off his cruise control and started to slow down. Moments later, as he "crested" a "slight incline," he saw a line of twenty to thirty stopped cars in front of him and "applied his brakes." Ten seconds later, Omar Campa-Borrego crashed into the back of Deines's pickup truck, causing Deines to suffer catastrophic injuries.

¶ 5 Deines sued defendants, alleging that their negligence, which resulted in the oil spill, was a cause of his injuries. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that Campa-Borrego's negligence was an unforeseeable intervening cause that broke the chain of causation arising from the original negligent conduct.

¶ 6 The district court agreed, concluding that

[t]he undisputed facts here support only one conclusion: the oil spill was not the proximate cause of Deines's injuries. As a matter of law, it was not reasonably foreseeable that Campa-Borrego would fail to pay attention and fail to notice that Deines had stopped in front of him more than a half-hour after the oil spill and nearly a third of a mile away. Campa-Borrego's negligence is too attenuated from the oil spill for the oil spill to be considered a proximate cause of the accident that injured Deines.

¶ 7 Deines appeals, contending that whether Campa-Borrego's negligence constituted an independent intervening cause is a fact question for the jury.

II. Summary Judgment Order

A. Standard of Review

¶ 8 We review an order granting summary judgment de novo. Dep't of Revenue v. Agilent Techs., Inc. , 2019 CO 41, ¶ 15, 441 P.3d 1012. Summary judgment is only proper when the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, and admissions show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Civ. Serv. Comm'n v. Pinder , 812 P.2d 645, 649 (Colo. 1991).

¶ 9 In considering whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court grants the nonmoving party the benefit of all favorable inferences that may reasonably be drawn from the undisputed facts and resolves all doubts against the moving party. Agilent Techs. , ¶ 15.

¶ 10 Summary judgment is a drastic remedy, and it should only be granted when it is clear that the applicable legal standards have been met. Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh , 2015 CO 25, ¶ 21, 347 P.3d 606. Issues of negligence and proximate cause are matters generally to be resolved by the jury, and only in the "clearest of cases where the facts are undisputed and reasonable minds can draw but one inference from them" should such issues be determined as a matter of law. Starks v. Smith , 475 P.2d 707, 707 (Colo. App. 1970) (not published pursuant to C.A.R. 35(f) ).

B. Analysis

¶ 11 A finding of negligence does not impose liability on a defendant unless the negligence proximately caused the plaintiff's injury. See Vititoe v. Rocky Mountain Pavement Maint., Inc. , 2015 COA 82, ¶ 37, 412 P.3d 767. While some confusion persists in the terminology used to explain principles of causation, see Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, Inc. v. Wagner , 2020 CO 51, ¶ 27, 467 P.3d 287, for purposes of our decision, we need not look beyond some well-established rules.

¶ 12 To prove causation, the plaintiff must show, first, that, but for the alleged negligence, the harm would not have occurred. Reigel v. SavaSeniorCare L.L.C. , 292 P.3d 977, 985 (Colo. App. 2011). The requirement of but-for causation is satisfied "if the

484 P.3d 802

negligent conduct in a ‘natural and continued sequence, unbroken by any efficient, intervening cause, produce[s] the result complained of, and without which that result would not have occurred.’ " Smith v. State Comp. Ins. Fund , 749 P.2d 462, 464 (Colo. App. 1987) (citation omitted); see also Groh v. Westin Operator, LLC , 2013 COA 39, ¶ 50, 352 P.3d 472 (Causation may be found where the negligent actor "sets in motion a course of events" that leads to the plaintiff's injury.), aff'd , 2015 CO 25, 347 P.3d 606.

¶ 13 Still, tort law does not impose liability on an actor for all harm factually caused by the actor's tortious conduct. Raleigh v. Performance Plumbing & Heating , 130 P.3d 1011, 1022 (Colo. 2006). Thus, in addition to establishing but-for causation, the plaintiff must also demonstrate proximate cause. Because "foreseeability is the touchstone of proximate cause," Westin Operator , 2015 CO 25, ¶ 33 n.5, 347 P.3d 606, to establish a negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove that the harm incurred was a "reasonably foreseeable" consequence of the defendant's negligence, Vanderbeek v. Vernon Corp. , 50 P.3d 866, 872 (Colo. 2002). Proximate cause may be established even where the actor did not and could not foresee the precise way the injury would come about. Webb v. Dessert Seed Co. , 718 P.2d 1057, 1062-63 (Colo. 1986).

¶ 14 An intervening cause that breaks the chain of causation from the original negligent act becomes the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury, relieving the wrongdoer of liability. Albo v. Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. , 160 Colo. 144, 146, 415 P.2d 536, 537 (1966). But an intervening act of a third party — even an intentionally tortious or criminal act — does not immunize the defendant from liability if the intervening act is itself reasonably foreseeable. Ekberg v. Greene , 196 Colo. 494, 496, 588 P.2d 375, 376 (1978) ; see also Albo , 160 Colo. at 146-47, 415 P.2d at 537 ("[T]he mere fact that other forces have intervened between the defendant's negligence and the plaintiff's injury does not absolve the defendant where the injury was the natural and probable consequence of the original wrong and might reasonably have been foreseen.") (citation omitted). To absolve the defendant of responsibility, the intervening cause must be fully independent of, and not have been set in motion by, the original negligence. See Cooke v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. , 14 So. 3d 1192, 1195 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009).

¶ 15 The question in this appeal is narrow: Could any rational juror find that the intervening cause — the traffic accident that injured Deines — was reasonably foreseeable based on defendants’ negligent act of causing an oil spill on the highway?

¶ 16 In assessing whether an intervening cause is unforeseeable, such that it breaks the connection between the original negligence and the plaintiff's injuries, Colorado courts look at the specific facts and circumstances of the case. See Hayes v. Williams , 17 Colo. 465, 473, 30 P. 352, 355 (1892) (noting that proximate cause is determined by the "associated facts and circumstances" of the case). We reject defendants’ suggestion, which the district court appears to have accepted, that our own case law provides insufficient guidance for resolving the parties’ dispute. The factors defendants point to — temporal and spatial proximity of the injury to the original negligent conduct, the unlikelihood of the occurrence...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1 practice notes
  • Garcia v. Colo. Cab Co., Court of Appeals No. 17CA1381
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • October 28, 2021
    ...proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury, relieving the wrongdoer of liability." Deines v. Atlas Energy Servs. , LLC , 2021 COA 24, ¶ 14, 484 P.3d 798 (citing Albo v. Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. , 160 Colo. 144, 146, 415 P.2d 536, 537 (1966) ). ¶ 41 But the fact that an intervening cause is a......
1 cases
  • Garcia v. Colo. Cab Co., Court of Appeals No. 17CA1381
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • October 28, 2021
    ...proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury, relieving the wrongdoer of liability." Deines v. Atlas Energy Servs. , LLC , 2021 COA 24, ¶ 14, 484 P.3d 798 (citing Albo v. Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. , 160 Colo. 144, 146, 415 P.2d 536, 537 (1966) ). ¶ 41 But the fact that an intervening cause is a......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT