Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc., S-17-0120

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBURKE, Chief Justice.
Citation419 P.3d 503
Parties Misty WOOD, a/k/a Misty Wood Crashley, as the Wrongful Death Personal Representative of the Estate of David L. Crashley, Appellant (Plaintiff), v. CRST EXPEDITED, INC., an Iowa Corporation, Jared Chavez and Luis Fontanez-Bermudez, individually, Appellees (Defendants).
Decision Date08 June 2018
Docket NumberS-17-0120

419 P.3d 503

Misty WOOD, a/k/a Misty Wood Crashley, as the Wrongful Death Personal Representative of the Estate of David L. Crashley, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
CRST EXPEDITED, INC., an Iowa Corporation, Jared Chavez and Luis Fontanez-Bermudez, individually, Appellees (Defendants).

S-17-0120

Supreme Court of Wyoming.

June 8, 2018


Representing Appellant: Larry B. Jones and Lindsey T. Krause of Simpson, Kepler & Edwards, LLC, the Cody, Wyoming division of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh and Jardine, P.C., Cody, Wyoming. Argument by Ms. Krause.

Representing Appellees: Khale J. Lenhart and Amanda M. Good of Hirst Applegate, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Lenhart.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL* , DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

BURKE, Chief Justice.

¶1] Misty Wood, on behalf of the Estate of David L. Crashley (the decedent), brought a wrongful death action against CRST Expedited, Inc. (CRST), a commercial trucking company, and two of its drivers. Ms. Wood alleged the drivers illegally and negligently parked a CRST semi tractor-trailer in an I-80 emergency lane and caused the decedent's death when the vehicle he was driving collided with the tractor-trailer. The district court found that parking the tractor-trailer in the emergency lane was not, based on the undisputed facts, a proximate cause of the accident, and entered summary judgment in favor of Appellees. We reverse.

ISSUE

[¶2] Ms. Wood presents a single issue on appeal, which we rephrase as:

Were there disputed issues of material fact that precluded the district court's entry of summary judgment?

FACTS

[¶3] At around midnight on the night of February 10, 2014, Jared Chavez and Luis Fontanez-Bermudez, two CRST drivers, set out from Salt Lake City, Utah, driving a CRST tractor-trailer eastbound on I-80. Mr. Chavez took the first driving shift while Mr. Fontanez-Bermudez slept in the sleeper berth. At around 6:45 a.m., on February 11th, approximately one mile west of Rawlins, Mr. Chavez pulled over, parked the tractor-trailer in the emergency lane, turned on the tractor-trailer's hazard lights, and informed Mr. Fontanez-Bermudez that he felt drowsy and wanted to change drivers. Mr. Chavez parked the tractor-trailer such that portions of the rig were within ten inches of the eastbound lanes of I-80. The location where Mr. Chavez parked the tractor-trailer was 1.05 miles past an off ramp leading to a truck stop, and .85 miles from the next highway exit. Multiple signs leading up to the location where Mr. Chavez pulled over indicated that parking was not allowed except for "emergency" purposes.

[¶4] Within minutes after Mr. Chavez stopped the tractor-trailer, the decedent, driving a Mazda CX-9 at or near highway speeds, collided with the rear of the tractor-

[419 P.3d 506

trailer. The speed limit on that portion of the highway was 75 m.p.h. It appears to be undisputed that the tractor-trailer was parked completely within the emergency lane at the time of the collision.1

¶5] At the time of the accident, the weather was clear, the road was dry, and it was dawn, with the sun still below the horizon. There were no signs that the decedent braked or attempted to avoid the collision, and it is not known why the decedent failed to maintain his proper lane of travel. The decedent suffered immediately fatal injuries, and Mr. Chavez was cited for illegally parking in an emergency lane.

[¶6] On January 26, 2016, Ms. Wood filed a wrongful death complaint against CRST, Mr. Chavez, and Mr. Fontanez-Bermudez, followed by an amended complaint on February 4, 2016. Ms. Wood alleged that Mr. Chavez and Mr. Fontanez-Bermudez were negligent in their illegal parking of the CRST tractor-trailer in the I-80 emergency lane. She further alleged that CRST was negligent in its training and supervision of its drivers and was also vicariously liable for the drivers' negligence. Appellees filed timely answers to the amended complaint.

[¶7] On November 17, 2016, Appellees filed a motion for summary judgment. Appellees asserted they were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law because Mr. Chavez's act of parking in the emergency lane, even if illegal, was not the proximate cause of the decedent's accident. On January 11, 2017, Ms. Wood filed her opposition to Appellees' summary judgment motion. After a hearing, the district court granted the motion for summary judgment. This timely appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶8] We apply the following standard of review to a district court's summary judgment decision:

Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. W.R.C.P. 56(c) ; Metz Beverage Co. v. Wyoming Beverages, Inc. , 2002 WY 21, ¶ 9, 39 P.3d 1051, 1055 (Wyo. 2002). "A genuine issue of material fact exists when a disputed fact, if it were proven, would establish or refute an essential element of a cause of action or a defense that the parties have asserted." Id. Because summary judgment involves a purely legal determination, we undertake de novo review of a trial court's summary judgment decision. Glenn v. Union Pacific R.R. Co. , 2008 WY 16, ¶ 6, 176 P.3d 640, 642 (Wyo. 2008).

Fugle v. Sublette Cty. Sch. Dist. No. 9 , 2015 WY 98, ¶ 5, 353 P.3d 732, 734 (Wyo. 2015). We consider the record from a viewpoint most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, giving that party all favorable inferences that can be drawn reasonably from the facts set forth in the affidavits, depositions, and other material properly appearing in the record. Id.

DISCUSSION

[¶9] The issue of proximate cause is generally one to be decided by the jury, and resolution of that issue depends on the foreseeability of the risk presented by the actor's conduct. Endresen v. Allen , 574 P.2d 1219, 1222 (Wyo. 1978) ("[W]hat is reasonably to be foreseen is generally a question for the jury."). According to one respected commentator:

The central goal of the proximate cause requirement is to limit the defendant's liability to the kinds of harms he risked by his negligent conduct. Judicial decisions about proximate cause rules thus attempt

[419 P.3d 507

to discern whether, in the particular case before the court, the harm that resulted from the defendant's negligence is so clearly outside the risks he created that it would be unjust or at least impractical to impose liability.

...

The most general and pervasive approach to proximate cause holds that a negligent defendant is liable for all the general kinds of harms he foreseeably risked by his negligent conduct and to the class of persons he put at risk by that conduct. Conversely, he is not a proximate cause of, and not liable for injuries that were unforeseeable. This does not mean that the defendant must be the sole proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury. On the contrary, several wrongdoers are frequently proximate causes of harm.

Dan B. Dobbs, The Law of Torts § 180, at 443-44 (2000) (footnote omitted).2

[¶10] In order to evaluate whether there is a factual issue regarding proximate cause in this case, it is essential that we understand the proper causal connection that must be established. The parties offer differing perspectives on that issue. Appellant contends that the proper test of proximate cause involves an analysis of the relationship between the conduct of Mr. Chavez in illegally parking on the shoulder of the highway and the injuries suffered by the decedent. "The focus of the analysis is whether ‘reasonable minds' can reach different conclusions regarding the proximate cause of [the decedent's] death." Appellees contend that Appellant must establish that the act of parking on the shoulder caused the decedent to lose control of his vehicle. According to Appellees: "[P]arking on the side of the road would not, in ordinary experience, be expected to cause someone to leave the lanes of travel. As such, parking on the side of the road cannot be a cause of this accident."3 The district court applied the standard proposed by Appellees and set forth the basis for its decision in the order granting summary judgment:

Defendant[s'] parking at that spot and time, whether or not it was legal, simply did not cause this accident. Nothing about parking in the emergency lane caused [the decedent] to drive into the back of the trailer. While it greatly aggravated the consequences of [the decedent's] conduct, Defendants' unlawful stop in the emergency lane did not cause [the decedent] to leave the lanes of travel in his vehicle and drive in the emergency lane.

For reasons that we explain below, we must conclude that the district court did not apply the proper standard. Appellant is not required to prove that parking on the shoulder of the highway caused the decedent to lose control of his vehicle. Rather, he must prove that parking on the shoulder of the road was a proximate cause of his injuries. "[T]he ultimate test of proximate cause is foreseeability of injury. In order to qualify as a legal cause, the conduct must be a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff's injuries ."

419 P.3d 508

Lucero v. Holbrook , 2012 WY 152, ¶ 17, 288 P.3d 1228, 1234 (Wyo. 2012) (emphasis added).

[¶11] This is a negligence case. Negligence consists of a duty on the part of the defendant and a violation of the duty which proximately causes injury to the plaintiff. ABC Builders, Inc. v. Phillips , ...

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10 practice notes
  • Moses Inc. v. Moses, S-21-0170
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 5, 2022
    ...anticipated or foreseen that a failure to use such care might result in such injury." Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc. , 2018 WY 62, ¶ 15, 419 P.3d 503, 510 (Wyo. 2018). We have also observed, however, that there may be circumstances that require us to refine the scope of duty as between partic......
  • Moses Inc. v. Moses, S-21-0170
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 5, 2022
    ...anticipated or foreseen that a failure to use such care might result in such injury." Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc., 2018 WY 62, ¶ 15, 419 P.3d 503, 510 (Wyo. 2018). We have also observed, however, that there may be circumstances that require us to refine the scope of duty as between particu......
  • Dockter v. Lozano, S-20-0028
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • September 11, 2020
    ...question of fact to be decided by the factfinder unless reasonable minds could not differ. Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc., 2018 WY 62, ¶ 9, 419 P.3d 503, 506 (Wyo. 2018); Collings v. Lords, 2009 WY 135, ¶ 7, 218 P.3d 654, 657 (Wyo. 2009). Courts in Wyoming are well-equipped to evaluate the pr......
  • Burns v. Sam, S-20-0095
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 21, 2021
    ...whether the conduct creates a generalized and foreseeable risk of harming others. Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc. , 2018 WY 62, ¶ 11, 419 P.3d 503, 508 (Wyo. 2018) (quoting Glenn v. Union Pac. R. Co. , 2011 WY 126, ¶ 34, 262 P.3d 177, 193–94 (Wyo. 2011) ); see also 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence §......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • Moses Inc. v. Moses, S-21-0170
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 5, 2022
    ...or foreseen that a failure to use such care might result in such injury." Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc. , 2018 WY 62, ¶ 15, 419 P.3d 503, 510 (Wyo. 2018). We have also observed, however, that there may be circumstances that require us to refine the scope of duty as between particular pa......
  • Moses Inc. v. Moses, S-21-0170
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 5, 2022
    ...anticipated or foreseen that a failure to use such care might result in such injury." Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc., 2018 WY 62, ¶ 15, 419 P.3d 503, 510 (Wyo. 2018). We have also observed, however, that there may be circumstances that require us to refine the scope of duty as between pa......
  • Dockter v. Lozano, S-20-0028
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • September 11, 2020
    ...question of fact to be decided by the factfinder unless reasonable minds could not differ. Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc., 2018 WY 62, ¶ 9, 419 P.3d 503, 506 (Wyo. 2018); Collings v. Lords, 2009 WY 135, ¶ 7, 218 P.3d 654, 657 (Wyo. 2009). Courts in Wyoming are well-equipped to evaluate the pr......
  • Burns v. Sam, S-20-0095
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 21, 2021
    ...whether the conduct creates a generalized and foreseeable risk of harming others. Wood v. CRST Expedited, Inc. , 2018 WY 62, ¶ 11, 419 P.3d 503, 508 (Wyo. 2018) (quoting Glenn v. Union Pac. R. Co. , 2011 WY 126, ¶ 34, 262 P.3d 177, 193–94 (Wyo. 2011) ); see also 57A Am. Jur. 2d Negligence §......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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