United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Winchester Division
RIVKA C. STEINBERG, Plaintiff,
LUEDTKE TRUCKING, INC., Defendant.
Jordan, United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment [doc. 63], Defendant's Brief [doc. 64],
Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Facts [doc. 65],
Plaintiff's Response [doc. 69], and Defendant's Reply
[doc. 70]. For the reasons herein, the Court will reserve
ruling on Defendant's motion in part and deny the
remainder of the motion.
attending the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester,
Tennessee, Plaintiff Rivka C. Steinberg traveled with her
friends to a truck plaza alongside the interstate. [Pl.'s
Dep., doc. 69-1, at 17:2-13]. They decided to camp out in a
field behind the truck plaza for the night. [Id. at
17:12-13]. Ms. Steinberg's friends offered a bottle of
beer to her, and as she consumed it, she became dizzy, lost
control over her body, and blacked out. [Id. at
17:13-16; 18:13-19, 22-24].
that same night, Mr. Randal Luedtke, a commercial truck
driver, was en route to Tennessee from Florida, and when he
arrived in Tennessee, he pulled his tractor-trailer into the
truck plaza in Manchester-the same truck plaza where Ms.
Steinberg was present for the night. [Luedtke Dep., doc.
65-1, at 46:15-25; 47:1-8]. He slept for several hours in his
truck. [Id. at 48:24-25; 49:1-2]. When he woke at
3:00 a.m., he completed paperwork, and around 6:00 a.m., he
placed his truck in gear. [Id. at 51:3-18].
According to his account, he backed up to reposition his
truck into a “nice spot, ” [id. at
51:23], planning to “go inside the truck stop
and get some coffee, use the restroom, and do a pre-trip
inspection before hitting the road, ” [Def.'s
Undisputed Facts ¶ 2].
sound of the moving truck stirred Ms. Steinberg to
consciousness-at which point she realized that she was not in
the field anymore but, somehow, was now lying underneath the
rear of Mr. Luedtke's truck. [Pl.'s Dep. at 17:17-18;
20:11-15]. As the truck's rear tire approached her, she
was unable to avoid it, and it ran over and mangled her leg.
[Id. at 17:17-21; 20:11-15, 17-18]. After hearing a
noise, Mr. Luedtke looked in his side-view mirror and, for
the first time, saw Ms. Steinberg “sitting on the
roadway back there, which [he] didn't know was a
roadway.” [Luedtke Dep. at 52:2-4]. He phoned 911,
and she was airlifted to a hospital, where she had emergency
surgery on her leg. [Id. at 52:19-24; 53:23;
Pl.'s Dep. at 34:21-25; 35:1-9]. She was hospitalized for
more than a month. [Pl.'s Dep. at 35:22-25].
Steinberg now believes that the beer she drank that night
might have been laced with a drug, possibly a
“roofie.” [Id. at 18:1-5]. Between
drinking the beer and regaining consciousness underneath Mr.
Luedtke's truck, she has no memory of anything that
happened. [Id. at 18:22-24]. She has “no
idea” how she went from being in the field to lying
under the truck. [Id. at 19:3-5]. And on the morning
of the incident, she could not locate her friends, who had
apparently vanished. [Id. at 19:6-18].
Steinberg now brings suit in this Court against Defendant
Luedtke Trucking, Inc., claiming that through Mr. Luedtke,
its employee and agent, it had a duty to ensure that
“there were no hazards presented to others”
before he operated his truck on the morning of the incident.
[Am. Compl, doc. 43, ¶ 8]. Her claims against Luedtke
Trucking include one for negligence and one for negligence
per se. [Id. at 3-4]. Luedtke Trucking now moves for
judgment is proper when the moving party shows, or
“point[s] out to the district court, ”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986),
that the record-the admissions, affidavits, answers to
interrogatories, declarations, depositions, or other
materials-is without a genuine issue of material fact and
that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). The moving party has the
initial burden of identifying the basis for summary judgment
and the portions of the record that lack genuine issues of
material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving
party discharges that burden by showing “an absence of
evidence to support the nonmoving party's” claim or
defense, id. at 325, at which point the nonmoving
party, to survive summary judgment, must identify facts in
the record that create a genuine issue of material fact,
id. at 324.
just any factual dispute will defeat a 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, 248
(1986). A fact is “material” if it may affect the
outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law,
id., and an issue is “genuine” if the
evidence is “such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. In
short, the inquiry is whether the record contains evidence
that “presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at
251-52. When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court
must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). “[T]he
judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and
determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether
there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249. A court may also resolve pure questions of
law on a motion for summary judgment. See Hill v.
Homeward Residential, Inc., 799 F.3d 544, 550 (6th Cir.
requesting summary judgment, Luedtke Trucking argues that it
did not owe a legal duty of care to Ms. Steinberg as a matter
of law and that the record shows it was not the proximate
cause of her injury. [Def.'s Br. at 9-21]. Luedtke
Trucking also contends that under the doctrine of comparative
fault, no reasonable jury could conclude that it was more
than fifty percent at fault for Ms. Steinberg's injury.
[Id. at 21-24].
the Court begins its analysis, it will address a fervently
contested issue between the parties: whether the record
shows, beyond a genuine issue of material fact, that Mr.
Luedtke inspected his truck or the area surrounding it before
reversing it. The parties' dispute on this issue centers
mostly around whether Mr. Luedtke performed a pre-trip
inspection, [Def.'s Br. at 20-21; Pl.'s Resp. at 6;
Def.'s Reply at 4]-a type of inspection he conducts
before retaking the road, [Luedtke Dep. at 5:10-15, 29:2-5].
This inspection includes, among other things, a walk-around
of the truck, a checkup of the tires to ensure they are free
from obstructions, and an examination of the area underneath
the truck for leaks. [Id. at 6:25; 7:1-3; 30:10-22].
Steinberg also appears to contend that Mr. Luedtke breached a
legal duty because he performed no inspection at all-pre-trip
or otherwise-before moving the truck: “Mr. Luedtke
violated accepted industry standard . . . by failing to
conduct any inspection prior to moving the truck.
[B]acking a 64 foot tractor trailer without visually
inspecting the area is a violation of due care.”
[Pl.'s Resp. at 10 n.53 (emphasis added) (quoting
Philbrick Decl., doc. 69-6, ¶ 21)]. In this vein, Ms.
Steinberg contends that the record shows Mr. Luedtke did not
exit the cab of his truck for any reason in the hours leading
up to the incident. [Def.'s Resp. at 6]. Mr. Luedtke,
however, argues that “[t]here is simply no evidence
that the Defendant ever left the truck stop without doing a
pre-trip inspection.” [Def.'s Reply at 4].
the record is unclear as to whether Mr. Luedtke performed a
pre-trip inspection before leaving the truck plaza for good,
it is clear that he performed no inspection of any kind
before reversing his truck onto Ms. Steinberg's leg. Mr.
Luedtke testified that, except maybe to use the restroom, he
did not recall exiting his cab between the time he parked his
truck in the evening and the time he repositioned it the
following morning. [Luedtke Dep. at 23:11-17]. He also admits
that he did not perform a pre-trip inspection between this
timeframe and instead planned to do it after he repositioned
his truck. [Def.'s Undisputed Facts ¶ 2]. The record
therefore establishes, beyond a genuine issue of material
fact, that Mr. Luedtke did not inspect his truck or the area
around it before reversing it and injuring Ms. Steinberg.
Negligence: Legal Duty of Care
general rule, people have a duty to refrain from acts that
would create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.
Satterfield v. Breeding Insulation, Co., 266 S.W.3d
347, 355 (Tenn. 2008). Negligence is conduct that violates a
person's duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid acts
that create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. Banks
v. Elks Club Pride of Tenn. 1102, 301 S.W.3d 214, 226
(Tenn. 2010). To establish a negligence claim, a plaintiff
has to show that (1) the defendant owed a legal duty of care
to him; (2) the defendant breached that duty of care by
engaging in behavior that fell below the applicable standard
of care; (3) an injury or loss; (4) cause in fact; and (5)
proximate cause. Giggers v. Memphis Hous. Auth., 277
S.W.3d 359, 364 (Tenn. 2009).
Trucking argues it is entitled to summary judgment on Ms.
Steinberg's negligence claim because Ms. Steinberg cannot
establish the first element-that it owed her a duty of care.
[Def.'s Br. at 12]. According to Luedtke Trucking, Ms.
Steinberg is trying to establish a legal duty “that
would require a person operating a vehicle to look underneath
it to see if there are any sleeping human beings, ” and
“no precedent could be located under Tennessee law . .
. establishing that such a duty exists.” [Id.
at 15-16]. To buttress this argument, Luedtke Trucking also
points out that in Tennessee “[n]o law prohibits a
truck driver from repositioning his truck to properly conduct
a pre-trip inspection.” [Def.'s Reply at 4-5]. Ms.
Steinberg responds by entreating the Court to reject Luedtke
Trucking's argument, faulting Luedtke ...