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Bennett v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

June 6, 2017

GEORGE BENNETT and MARTHA BENNETT, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,


          John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the motion for partial summary judgment by Defendant the United States of America (Dkt. No. 15). Having thoroughly considered the motion and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 1, 2013, Plaintiff George Bennett's vehicle collided with a government vehicle driven by a Homeland Security Investigations agent. (Dkt. No. 16-1 at 4.) Plaintiffs allege that the collision was negligently caused by the government agent and that, as a result, Bennett incurred “medical costs of about $100, 000.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 4-5.)

         According to the United States, Plaintiffs have identified two categories of injuries that allegedly resulted from the collision: (1) aggravation of Bennett's pre-existing neck injury, which required surgery in April 2015, and (2) gallstone pancreatitis, which was caused by a coughing fit, which in turn was caused by dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) Bennett developed after the surgery. (Dkt. No. 15 at 1-2.)

         The United States moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiffs fail to show that any action by the United States was the proximate cause of Bennett's gallstone pancreatitis. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiffs did not respond to the motion.


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         The Court shall grant summary judgment if the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In making such a determination, the Court must view the facts and justifiable inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party must present specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case, and a dispute about a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. Ultimately, summary judgment is appropriate against a party who “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

         B. Causation

         To establish a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) damages resulted, and (4) the defendant's breach proximately caused the damages. Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological Soc'y, 875 P.2d 621, 624 (Wash. 1994). Washington law recognizes two elements of proximate cause: cause-in-fact and legal causation. Hartley v. State, 698 P.2d 77, 82 (Wash. 1985). “Cause in fact refers to the ‘but for' consequences of an act-the physical connection between an act and an injury.” Id. at 83. Cause-in-fact is a question for the trier of fact unless “but one reasonable conclusion is possible.” Id. Legal causation is a question of law that asks whether, as a matter of policy, a defendant's act should give rise to liability. Id.

         To establish causation, medical testimony must be sufficiently definite to establish that the defendant's act “probably” or “more likely than not” caused the plaintiff's injuries. O'Donoghue v. Riggs, 440 P.2d 823, 830 (Wash. 1968). The opinion must not be speculative or conclusory and it must have adequate foundation. Safeco Ins. v. McGrath, 817 P.2d 861, 865 (Wash.Ct.App. 1991).

         C. Expert Testimony

         Moreover, under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, an expert witness must be qualified by “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, ” and may testify “if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.” This “knowledge” must be based on “more than subjective belief or unsupported speculation.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 590 (1993). Under this rule, the Court assesses “whether the reasoning or ...

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