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Carswell v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 25, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on two motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Martin Carswell has moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability for injuries resulting from a motorcycle collision with a federal employee. Dkt. # 19. The Government does not oppose a finding of liability, but rather moves for summary judgment on the issue of damages, requesting that the Court impose a cap on Plaintiff's recovery prior to trial. Dkt. # 17. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and DENIES the Government's motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed. On September 28, 2012, Plaintiff was operating his motorcycle on East Marginal Way South in Seattle when he was struck by a car driven by Robert Diamond, an employee of the Defense Information Systems Agency (“DISA”). Diamond was turning left from the left turning lane and failed to yield to oncoming traffic. The Seattle police investigator assigned to the scene concluded that Diamond was solely at fault for the collision and cited Diamond for failing to yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic, a violation of Washington state statute. See RCWA 46.61.185.

         As a result of the collision, Plaintiff suffered injury to his left leg, ankle, and foot. Immediately after the accident, Plaintiff underwent multiple surgeries to repair the damage. Plaintiff filed an administrative claim with the U.S. Army in November 2013 seeking $2, 002, 580.67 in both property and personal injury damages. Plaintiff timely filed this lawsuit on August 15, 2015. During the discovery stage of this suit, Plaintiff updated his damages estimate to include future medical costs and loss of future earning capacity, bringing the estimated total to $4, 000, 000 to $6, 000, 000.

         The Government does not dispute Diamond was negligent in causing the collision resulting in Plaintiff's injuries, and it does not oppose a finding of liability at this juncture. However, the Government has filed a motion for summary judgment seeking an order limiting Plaintiff's recovery to the amount of damages claimed in his administrative complaint. The Government also seeks an order requiring Plaintiff to reduce all future economic damages to present value, which Plaintiff does not oppose.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the moving party will have the burden of proof at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). On an issue where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can prevail merely by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party meets the initial burden, the opposing party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial in order to defeat the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000).

         However, the Court need not, and will not, “scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact.” Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also White v. McDonnell-Douglas Corp., 904 F.2d 456, 458 (8th Cir. 1990) (the Court need not “speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving party relies, nor is it obliged to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party's claim”). The opposing party must present significant and probative evidence to support its claim or defense. Intel Corp. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 952 F.2d 1551, 1558 (9th Cir. 1991). Uncorroborated allegations and “self-serving testimony” will not create a genuine issue of material fact. Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054, 1061 (9th Cir. 2002); T.W. Elec. Serv. V. Pac Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).


         A. The United States is liable for Diamond's negligence in causing the collision with Plaintiff.

         It is undisputed that Diamond, a federal employee acting within the scope of his employment, caused the collision resulting in Plaintiff's injuries. However, even though the Government does not oppose a finding of liability, the Court must conduct an independent review of the record under Rule 56 to determine whether the motion and supporting materials entitle Plaintiff to summary judgment. See Heinemann v. Satterberg, 731 F.3d 914, 917 (9th Cir. 2013); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3).

         Under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the Government can be sued “under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). The FTCA holds the Government “vicariously liable for negligent acts and omission of its employees while performing their duties in the scope of their employment.” Keone v. United States, 2014 WL 6632344, at *5 (W.D. Wash. Nov. 21, 2014); 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). The extent of the United States' liability under the FTCA is governed by reference to substantive state law. Molzof v. United States, 502 U.S. 301, 305 (1992); 28 U.S.C. § 2674.

         Under Washington law, negligence “requires duty, breach, and resultant injury; and the breach of duty must also be shown to be the proximate cause of the injury.” Hartley v. State, 698 P.2d 77, 82-83 (Wash.1985). To establish proximate cause, a plaintiff must prove: (1) cause in fact, meaning that the injury would not have occurred but for the claimed negligence, and (2) legal causation, meaning that the cause produced the injury in a direct sequence. Id. Under Washington law, all drivers possess a duty to exercise ordinary care while operating a motor vehicle. Robison v. Simard, 360 P.2d 153, 154 (Wash. App. 1961). ...

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