Taliaferro-Holmes v. New England Motor Freight, Inc

Decision Date05 December 2016
Docket NumberCV166062746S
CourtConnecticut Superior Court
PartiesDebra A. Taliaferro-Holmes et al. v. New England Motor Freight, Inc

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

OPINION

Robin L. Wilson, J.

MOTION FOR STAY (#109)

STATEMENT OF CASE AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The plaintiffs, Taliaferro-Holmes and Lionel Holmes (plaintiffs) commenced this negligence action against the defendant, New England Motor Freight Company, Inc. (defendant) by service of writ, summons and complaint with a return date of June 21 2016. The complaint, which is in three counts, was returned to court on June 6, 2016, and alleges the following facts.

On or about August 15, 2015, at about 5:38 a.m., the plaintiff Taliaferro-Holmes was operating a 2014 Buick which she owned on Interstate 95 Northbound in the area of Exit 70 in Old Lyme, Connecticut. At approximately the same time and place Rowan A. Phillip was operating a tractor-trailer leased and registered to the defendant on the northbound side of Interstate 95, behind the plaintiff. The tractor-trailer operated by Phillip and registered to the defendant was a " commercial motor vehicle" as that term is defined by 49 C.F.R. § 390. At all relevant times, the defendant and its employees operated commercial motor vehicles and therefore they were subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 C.F.R. § § 390.1-396.25 (FMCSR) and Regs. Conn. Agencies § § 14-163c-1 14-163c-2. These regulations are intended to reasonably protect the safety of the public. At all relevant times Phillip was an employee of the defendant as that term is defined by 49 C.F.R. § 390.5. At all relevant times Phillip was acting for the benefit of and in the course and scope of his employment with the defendant.

On or about August 15, 2015, at approximately 5:38 a.m. traffic on the northbound side of Interstate 95 in the area of exit 70 in Old Lyme, Connecticut was heavy and the vehicle driven by the plaintiff was moving slowly or stopped in traffic. The tractor-trailer registered to the defendant and driven by Phillip failed to stop and struck the rear of a vehicle behind the plaintiff's vehicle with such force as to cause it to strike another vehicle, starting a chain reaction that resulted in a total of seven (7) vehicles being struck with great force, including the vehicle being driven by the plaintiff. Both passengers in Taliaferro-Holmes' vehicle were killed. Count one alleges negligence against the defendant based on vicarious liability and the negligence of Phillip in the operation of the tractor-trailer; count two alleges negligent entrustment, hiring, supervision and retaining of Phillip against the defendant; and count three alleges a loss of consortium claim brought by the plaintiff Lionel H. Holmes, Jr., the spouse of plaintiff Debra Taliaferro-Holmes. The plaintiff, Taliaferro-Holmes alleges that as a result of the negligence and carelessness of the defendant, due to the negligence of Phillip, she sustained serious injuries and losses.

On September 16, 2016, the defendant filed a motion to stay this action until a full and final resolution of a prior pending criminal matter involving Rowan Phillip, the driver of the defendant's tractor trailer. According to the defendant, Phillip was arrested on August 15, 2015, the date of the multi-vehicle accident, and charged with two (2) Class D felonies--Misconduct with a motor vehicle and eight (8) charges of 2nd Degree Reckless Endangerment. The defendant claims that the allegations of fact in both the civil and criminal cases are identical. The defendant argues that it cannot conduct any meaningful discovery because the Connecticut State Police have not produced a final investigative report for the accident and it contains the identities of potential 3rd party defendants, and critical factual evidence pertaining to both liability and damages. The defendant argues that due to the factual circumstances surrounding this multi-vehicle accident, there are other persons and entities involved in the subject accident who should be joined in this matter. The defendant claims that the investigation of the accident is ongoing by the Connecticut State Police and other Connecticut authorities. Eight vehicles that were involved in the accident were impounded by Connecticut authorities having jurisdiction over this matter, and to date only one vehicle has been released. The defendant claims that on information and belief, the Connecticut criminal court has not authorized the release of any other vehicles pending the ongoing investigation. The defendant claims it has not received any of the criminal discovery and that the documents and testimony associated with the ongoing investigation will be required for the defendant to determine the other necessary parties that must be joined in this litigation. The defendant argues that until the criminal proceedings are resolved, it is virtually impossible for it to proceed with the civil litigation because all of the relevant discovery and information is restricted by the active criminal proceedings.

The defendant claims that it has served a formal request on the Connecticut State Police to provide defendant with relevant discovery related to the subject accident, however, to date none has been provided. According to the defendant it only has the Accident Information Summary. The defendant argues that it is not only the issue of liability, but damages as well, that cannot proceed, since the testimony of the first responders, which the prosecutor has refused to allow to proceed, is critical as well. Defendant claims that it has made numerous attempts to contact Phillip's criminal attorney to ascertain the status of the criminal proceedings, however he has failed to respond. The defendant claims that as a result, it has no relevant information regarding the investigation of this matter since same is restricted due to the pendency of the criminal proceedings. The defendant further asserts that due to the nature of the accident, the fact there were numerous vehicles involved, and because there was another accident that occurred one hour prior in the southbound lanes which impacted the traffic conditions at the time of the subject accident, it will be critical for the defendant to add third-party defendants, and in order to do so, the defendant is in need of further discovery to determine those persons that should be joined as third-party defendants. The defendant claims that this information is not available due to the pendency of the criminal proceedings. The defendant argues that if a stay is not granted, and additional parties are brought in after discovery has commenced, discovery will inevitably be duplicated, at a tremendous expense to all parties. This, the defendant argues will burden the court, which will undoubtedly be asked to consider numerous motions on the subject. The defendant further claims that if a stay is not granted this litigation will drag on for a lengthy period of time and will only become more document intensive. Defendant claims it is therefore severely prejudiced in proceeding with the civil litigation and further claims that Phillip's criminal attorney will most likely not let him participate in providing any meaningful information for fear of waiving his Fifth Amendment right against making self-incriminating statements. The defendant claims that the 5th Amendment concerns relating to Phillip permeate this case, and without a stay the defendant would suffer significant adverse consequences from Phillip exercising his 5th Amendment rights because of the overlap of allegations between the civil and criminal matters. The defendant contends that due to the overlapping issues in both the civil and criminal cases, coupled with the limited amount of meaningful discovery that can be conducted at the present time, this matter should be stayed.

The plaintiffs object to the motion for stay on grounds that they will be prejudiced by the delay of this case if the matter is stayed. Plaintiffs argue that the defendant's arguments that it cannot investigate this matter because of the ongoing police investigation and that it cannot even investigate the plaintiffs' damages because of the driver's 5th Amendment privileges or because the state's attorney won't allow the ambulance drivers to testify are all without merit. The plaintiff argues that this defendant does not have a 5th Amendment privilege that is implicated in this matter and although its employee, Phillip might, he is not being sued and his testimony would not necessarily implicate his 5th Amendment privilege nor would he necessarily choose to assert it. The plaintiffs argue that the theoretical possibility that the driver " may" assert his 5th Amendment privilege is not sufficient cause to warrant a stay of the proceedings. Plaintiffs argue that the defendant can gather medical records and other information related to damages of the plaintiffs in this case apart from any issues regarding access to " first responders." The plaintiffs argue that there is no reason to delay the investigation of this matter and the beginning of the anticipated extensive discovery that will be required, and therefore the court should deny the motion for stay.

The motion first appeared on this court's October 3, 2015 individual calendar as take papers and the court scheduled oral argument on the motion for October 24, 2016. During oral argument the court ordered supplemental briefing on whether OSHA and/or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations or any other federal or state law or regulation would mandate the employer to investigate and report the subject accident thus, enforcing state law enforcement officials to produce their investigation reports to ...

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