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Tiffany Ann Marie Fragnella v. Robert B. Petrovich

June 21, 2012

TIFFANY ANN MARIE FRAGNELLA, DECEASED, AND THE ESTATE OF TIFFANY ANN MARIE FRAGNELLA, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
ROBERT B. PETROVICH, INDIVIDUALLY, D/B/A PETROVICH TRUCKING, INC., AND INTERSTATE EQUIPMENT LEASING, INC., SWIFT TRANSPORTATION, INC., AND JOHN AND JANE DOE, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS. NICOLE A. PLOUFFE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT B. PETROVICH, JR., AND JANE DOE PETROVICH, HUSBAND AND WIFE, D/B/A PETROVICH TRUCKING, INC., INTERSTATE EQUIPMENT LEASING, INC., SWIFT TRANSPORTATION COPORATION, A NEVADA CORPORATION, AND SWIFT TRANSPORTATION CO., INC., AN ARIZONA CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS. THOMAS THAYER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT B. PETROVICH, JR., AND JANE DOE PETROVICH, HUSBAND AND WIFE, D/B/A PETROVICH TRUCKING, INC., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from the district court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Nez Perce County. Hon. Carl B. Kerrick, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: W. Jones, Justice

2012 Opinion No. 95

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

The decision of the district court is affirmed. Costs on appeal are awarded to Respondents.

I. NATURE OF THE CASE

This appeal involves the consolidation of two personal injury actions and one wrongful death action arising out of an automobile accident. On December 5, 2007, Paul Ruggiero- Smith's vehicle collided with a semi-tractor trailer driven by Robert Petrovich. Nicole Plouffe and Tiffany Ann Marie Fragnella were both passengers in Smith's vehicle. Plouffe was severely injured and Fragnella died as a result of her injuries. At the time of the accident, Petrovich was driving the semi-truck for Swift Transportation Co., Inc., and was training a Swift Transportation employee in driving skills. The Swift Transportation trainee, Thomas Thayer, was a passenger in the semi-truck at the time of the collision. Thayer was covered under Swift Transportation's workers' compensation insurance.

Appellants' Amended Complaint alleged that Petrovich was negligently driving the semi- truck. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Respondents, finding that there was no evidence that the accident was caused by Petrovich. The district court also concluded that Thayer's third party claim for negligence against Petrovich was separately barred by the exclusive remedy rule under Idaho's Workers' Compensation statutes. Appellants appeal to this Court arguing that the district court erred in granting summary judgment, that the court abused its discretion in denying the Motions for Reconsideration, and that the court erred in determining that the exclusive remedy rule barred Thayer's claims against Petrovich.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In the early morning hours of December 5, 2007, Paul Ruggiero-Smith was driving a 1995 Subaru Legacy while traveling southbound on US Highway 95, near Craigmont, Idaho. Nicole Plouffe and Tiffany Ann Marie Fragnella were both passengers in Ruggiero-Smith's vehicle. Robert Petrovich was driving a Kenworth semi-truck, pulling a trailer, and traveling northbound on US Highway 95. Petrovich was the owner of the semi-truck, which was financed by Interstate Equipment Leasing, Inc., through a purchase and sale agreement. Swift Transportation Corporation was the owner of the trailer that Petrovich was pulling. Petrovich had entered a contract for driving services with Swift Transportation Co., Inc., and he was on his way home from hauling a load of freight for Swift Transportation Co., Inc. Additionally, Thomas Thayer, a trainee for Swift Transportation Co., Inc., was riding along with Petrovich to learn how to drive a semi-truck.

At approximately 6:20 a.m., Fragnella and Plouffe were asleep in Ruggiero-Smith's car and Thayer was sleeping in the sleeper compartment of Petrovich's semi-truck. The road conditions were icy that morning and Ruggiero-Smith's vehicle crossed into the northbound lane and collided with Petrovich's semi-truck. Petrovich swerved in an effort to avoid the accident, but the front of Ruggiero-Smith's vehicle hit the front driver's side of Petrovich's semi-truck. Fragnella was ejected from the Subaru upon impact and died as a result of her injuries. Plouffe and Thayer were both seriously injured.

Appellants, Plouffe, Fragnella,*fn1 and Thayer each filed their respective complaints, and eventually all three lawsuits were consolidated. Fragnella filed suit on December 12, 2008, Plouffe filed suit in January of 2009, and Thayer filed suit on April 14, 2009. The district court ordered the Fragnella and Plouffe lawsuits to be consolidated on April 9, 2009, and then ordered the Fragnella/Plouffe lawsuit to be consolidated with the Thayer case on May 13, 2009. The original complaints included a claim for negligence against Ruggiero-Smith, but the parties stipulated for a dismissal of Ruggiero-Smith. On July 28, 2009, the district court dismissed all claims against Ruggiero-Smith with prejudice. The Respondents on appeal include Petrovich, Swift Transportation Corp., Swift Transportation Co., Inc., and Interstate Equipment Leasing, Inc.*fn2

In the Appellants' original complaints, they conceded that Ruggiero-Smith's Subaru, "which was traveling southbound on US 95, encroached into the northbound lane, colliding with the commercial vehicle driven by Mr. Petrovich." Appellants alleged that Petrovich was negligent by driving with a suspended license and for failing to keep a proper lookout to avoid the collision. The Respondents filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that driving with a suspended license was not the proximate cause of the accident and that the Appellants failed to establish negligence. Appellants moved the district court to vacate the summary judgment hearing in order to depose Petrovich and file their Amended Complaints. Respondents filed an Amended Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that there was no genuine issue of material fact and that the Appellants failed to establish that Petrovich negligently caused the accident. In response to the Respondents' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Appellants conceded that Petrovich's driving without a license was not the proximate cause of the injury. Instead, Appellants argued that Petrovich's negligent behavior contributorily caused the accident for the following reasons. Appellants asserted that Petrovich was taking the drug, Allopurinol,*fn3 which may have impaired his driving by causing drowsiness or delayed reactions. Appellants also claimed that Petrovich was negligent in not completing an entire pre-trip inspection of the truck and trailer which may have revealed a hole in the right brake canister. Appellants also asserted that the brakes on Petrovich's semi-truck were not functioning properly because the truck was pulling to the right. Finally, Appellants contended that although Petrovich was driving within the speed limit, his rate of speed at 55 miles per hour was unreasonable because of the icy and slick road conditions. Appellants again moved the lower court to amend their Amended Complaint to include these factual allegations and add a punitive damage claim.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Respondents, finding that there was no evidence to support that the accident was caused by Petrovich. The district court also concluded that Thayer's third party claim for negligence against Petrovich was separately barred by the exclusive remedy rule under Idaho's Workers' Compensation statutes, finding that Petrovich was an agent of Swift Transportation Co., Inc. In making its ruling on summary judgment, the district court also denied Appellants' Motion to Amend the Amended Complaint because the court had already addressed the additional facts in deciding whether to grant summary judgment.

The Appellants filed Motions for Reconsideration and presented additional facts of Petrovich's contributory negligence. Thayer's motion specifically argued that Petrovich was an independent contractor, and thus was a third party tortfeasor, not exempt from liability under workers' compensation statutes. The district court ultimately denied the Motions for Reconsideration, concluding that the Appellants failed to show that a genuine issue of material fact existed with regard to proximate causation. The court denied Thayer's Motion for Reconsideration, finding that Thayer's exclusive remedy was under workers' compensation because Petrovich was an agent of Swift Transportation Co., Inc. at the time of the accident. The Appellants appeal to this Court arguing that the district court erred in granting summary judgment because genuine issues of fact exist as to whether Petrovich's conduct caused the accident. Appellants also assert that the district court abused its discretion by striking various affidavits, abused its discretion by denying Appellants' Motion to Amend the Amended Complaint, and erred by denying Appellants' Motions for Reconsideration. Lastly, Thayer contends that the lower court erred in determining that the exclusive remedy rule barred Thayer's negligence claim against Petrovich.

III. ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Whether the district court erred in granting Petrovich's Motion for Summary Judgment?

2. Whether the district court abused its discretion by striking the affidavits of William H.

Skelton, Darrel W. Aherin, and portions of the affidavit of Thomas Thayer?

3. Whether the district court erred in denying Appellants' Motions for Reconsideration?

4. Whether the district court abused its discretion by denying Appellants' Motion to Amend the Amended Complaint to add more specific factual allegations and a request for punitive damages?

5. Whether the district court erred in ruling that Thayer's negligence claim against Petrovich was barred by the exclusive remedy rule under Idaho's Workers' Compensation statutes?

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

On appeal from the grant of a motion for summary judgment, this Court utilizes the same standard of review used by the district court originally ruling on the motion. Shawver v. Huckleberry Estates, LLC, 140 Idaho 354, 360, 93 P.3d 685, 691 (2004) (internal citations omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." I.R.C.P. 56(c). When considering whether the evidence shows a genuine issue of material fact, the trial court must liberally construe the facts, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Mitchell v. Bingham Mem'l Hosp., 130 Idaho 420, 422, 942 P.2d 544, 546 (1997). Moreover, a mere scintilla of evidence or merely casting a slight doubt of the facts will not defeat summary judgment. Corbridge v. Clark Equip. ...


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