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Jenkins v. Road Scholar Transportation, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 8, 2019

TAVONN R. JENKINS, et al, Plaintiffs,



         Plaintiff Tavonn R. Jenkins, together with his minor children Tavonn R. Jenkins, Jr. and Mia Cherie Jenkins, brings this diversity action against Road Scholar Transportation, LLC, 2001 Leasing Corporation, and Joshua P. Caswell, for personal injuries suffered by Plaintiff and for his children's loss of consortium. (Second Am. Compl. ("SAC") [Doc. # 58] ¶¶ 1-8.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant Caswell acted negligently by unsafely and illegally parking his truck on the right shoulder of 1-95, where Plaintiff collided with the truck and suffered serious injuries on March 8, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12, 16.) Defendants moved for summary judgment, ([Doc. # 901), and for the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' Motion.

         I. Background

         On the evening of March 7, 2014, Plaintiff drove from his home in New Haven to attend a birthday party in New York, leaving around 9 p.m. and arriving in New York approximately one hour and forty-five minutes later. (Ex. A (PL's Dep.) to Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. [Doc. # 90-3] at 43, 48-50.) The party took place at a restaurant, 9A. (Id. at 50.) Plaintiff estimates that he left the party "around midnight or 1:00 [a.m.] ...." (Id. at 56.) After leaving 9A, Plaintiff walked to Amy Ruth's, a "chicken and waffle ... place in Harlem." (Id. at 57.) Amy Ruth's was within walking distance of 9A, and Plaintiff wanted "to get some air, get some coffee, get something in [his] system[.]" (Id.) Plaintiff had only eaten appetizers at 9A, but stated that he had also eaten dinner at home in New Haven before driving to New York. (Id. at 57-58.) At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that his alcohol consumption at 9A consisted of "a couple of celebratory shots" and a single beer. (Id. at 58-60.) At Amy Ruth's, Plaintiff ate chicken and waffles, which he described as a "sobering up method." (Id. at 61.) Plaintiff stayed at Amy Ruth's for no more than forty-five minutes. (Id.) Plaintiff drank coffee on his walk back to his car, which was parked at 9A. (Id. at 62.) Plaintiff left New York around 3 a.m., and the collision occurred at 3:49 a.m. (Id. at 98-99.)

         Plaintiff intended to drive directly to his home in New Haven from 9A, taking 1-95, a drive that he had made many times before. (Id. at 64.) Before the collison, Plaintiff stopped only to pay the toll. (Id. at 65.) According to Plaintiff, prior to the collison, he was driving around 50-55 miles per hour in the middle of three lanes in Greenwich, Connecticut. (Id. at 66.) Plaintiff testified that as he passed a truck weigh station on his right, he "hit a patch of ice or something, some slippery condition on the ground," which he "assumed was black ice because [he] couldn't see it[.]" (Id. at 68-69.) Upon hitting the ice, Plaintiff testified that he "began to slide to the right through one lane past the breakdown lane." (Id. at 69.) Upon entering the breakdown lane but before hitting the truck, the right side of Plaintiffs car made contact with an ice bank piled to the right of the breakdown lane, staying in contact with that ice for 82 feet until he collided with the parked truck. (Id. at 69, 74.)

         According to Plaintiff, when he hit the ice patch in the middle lane, he did not spin, but instead slid to the right. (Id. at 92.) The car did not rotate and remained facing forward in the direction of traffic, but crossed over from the middle lane to the right travel lane, through the acceleration lane (leading out of the weigh station), and into the shoulder. (Id. at 93-94.)

         According to Plaintiffs medical records, Plaintiff told staff that he believed he lost consciousness and that he had seven drinks before the collison. ([Doc. # 90-9] at 2.) The records state that Plaintiff "is currently intoxicated" and "smells of alcohol." (Id.) While the records do not clearly specify at what time those observations were made, they do note that Plaintiff had to be extricated from the car over the course of 2 hours. (Id.) At his deposition, Plaintiff maintained that he was awake throughout this entire episode and denied recalling that he had told a responding state trooper and Stamford Hospital staff that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. (PL's Dep. at 74-75.) When asked whether he recalled telling hospital staff that he had had seven drinks, Plaintiff testified that he did not remember speaking with the staff at all. (Id. at 99.)

         Plaintiff recalls that the weather was cold on the night of the collison, but he did not have any other traction issues on the way to New York or on the return trip until the collison. (Id. at 96.) Plaintiff did not see any other vehicles spin out or lose control on the highway. (Id.) Deputy Chief Keith Millette of the Greenwich Fire Department, who responded to the crash, approached from the same direction as had Plaintiff and states in his affidavit that he had "no recollection of having difficulties with traction, or encountering any problems with ice on the roadway." ([Doc. # 90-12] at 2-3.) Millette arrived at the scene at 4:03:55 a.m. (Id. at 3.) Over course of the 3-hour call, from approximately 4:00 to 7:00 a.m., Millette had "no recollection of having had any difficulties with ice[, ]" and the only ice he saw was in the snowbank on the side of the road. (Id. at 3-4.) Millette noted that "[t]here was nothing compelling about the surface of the road or shoulder, one way or the other" and that he did "not remember any Fire Department personnel having difficulty with their footing." (Id. at 4.)

         Similarly, in the unrebutted report of Brad Field, Chief Meteorologist of New England Skywatch Weather, Field concludes, based on the absence of precipitation in the location of the crash, and the lack of "evidence of enough [snowbank] melting to flood into the northbound travel lane and freeze over[, ]" that it is "highly likely that the travel lane would have been dry and ice-free." ([Doc. # 90-13] at 5.)

         In support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants also rely upon the unrebutted expert toxicology report of Dr. Charles McKay. ([Doc. # 90-11].) In his report, Dr. McKay lays out the basis and methodology by which he reverse-extrapolates Plaintiffs approximate blood-alcohol concentration ("BAC") at the time of the crash. (Id. at 3-4, 6.) Dr. McKay notes that "[t]he BAC equivalent of 0.093g% was drawn from Mr. Jenkins 3 hours and 21 minutes after the crash, with his last drink stated to have been consumed more than 2 hours before that." (Id. at 3.) According to Dr. McKay's calculations, Plaintiffs "BAC at the time of the crash would have most likely been >0.15g% (with a possible range of 0.12 - 0.19g%)." (Id.) Accordingly, Dr. McKay concludes that Plaintiff "was legally intoxicated while driving on the highway in the early morning hours of March 8, 2014." (Id. at 5.) "His [reverse-extrapolated] BAC at the time of the crash ... represented nearly 4 standard drinks of alcohol in his system at that time, and most likely required the consumption of more than 13 standard drinks over that evening and night to achieve." (Id.)

         On the night of the crash, Connecticut State Trooper David Tharas was assigned to patrol 1-95 north and south between the New York border and Exit 10. (Ex. C (Tharas Dep.) to Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. [Doc. # 90-5] at 12.) Tharas was dispatched to the scene, where he remained from approximately 4:00 until 7:00 a.m. (Id. at 20, 23.) Tharas had no issues with ice on the roadway that night and testified that the roads were clear. (Id. at 23-24.) Tharas stated that he knew Plaintiff had been drinking because he "smelled it on him." (Id. at 29-30.) Moreover, according to Tharas, Plaintiffs "eyes were bloodshot and glassy" and his speech was slurred. (Id. at 35.)

         Tharas asked Plaintiff what had happened, and Plaintiff told him that he had fallen asleep. (Id. at 37.) Plaintiff made no mention of having hit ice on the roadway. (Id. at 37-38.) Tharas found, in his report, that the two contributing factors to the crash were (1) Joshua Caswell illegally parking in the breakdown lane and (2) Plaintiffs operation of his car under the influence of alcohol. (Id. at 59-60.)

         II. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. ...

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