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Viergelia v. Gafar

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

April 30, 2018

Frantz Viergelia Plaintiff,
v.
Latoya Gafar et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THE HONORABLE GINA L. SIMMS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pending before this Court, by the parties' consent, are Motions for Summary Judgment and Responses in Opposition thereto. (ECF Nos. 29, 31, 39, 41, 42, 43, 44). Upon review of the pleadings and the record, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See L.R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, both Motions for Summary Judgment are DENIED.

         I. Background

         The following facts are undisputed. On the evening of February 15, 2015, Plaintiff Frantz Viergelia (“Plaintiff”) boarded a public metro bus operated by Defendant Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (“WMATA”) on his way home from work. (Viergelia Dep. 8:20-22, 9:1, 15:9-18). The weather that evening was snowy, icy, or a combination of both, causing slick roadways. (Id. 17:8-15; ECF No. 39 at 3; ECF No. 41 at 3). As the bus approached University Boulevard and Lorain Avenue around 1:00 in the morning, the bus driver, Mr. Wright, lost control and began skidding downhill. (Wright Dep. 37:13-22, 38:1-2). The bus ultimately collided with Defendant Latoya Gafar (“Gafar”)'s sedan, finally coming to a halt in a Safeway parking lot. (Wright Dep. 45:12-21). At the time of the collision, Gafar's sedan was facing the wrong way and straddled two lanes, as Gafar had lost control of her vehicle before the impact. (Id. 40:11-14, 44:6-14; Gafar Dep. 16:19-22, 17:1-8). Plaintiff claims that he hit his head on the back of the seat in front of him and hit his left leg on a screw on the back of the seat in front of him. (Viergelia Dep. 21:7-22, 22:1-5). He was later transported to Holy Cross Hospital for treatment. (Id. 22:6-9). Since then, Plaintiff has had neck pain, headaches, and nose bleeds that he attributes to the accident. (Id. 28:1-4).

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on March 18, 2016, alleging that he suffered injuries as a result of Defendants WMATA and Gafar's negligence. Id. Defendants filed their Answers on March 18, 2016 and December 27, 2016, respectively. (ECF Nos. 5, 22). This case was referred to me for All Further Proceedings on November 17, 2017. WMATA filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 39). Gafar filed her Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 41). Plaintiff filed his Responses in Opposition thereto. (ECF Nos. 42, 43). WMATA filed its Reply. (ECF No. 44). Defendant Gafar did not file a Reply. Accordingly, the Motions pending before this Court are ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         Motions for summary judgment shall be granted only if there are no genuine issues as to any material fact, such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Properties, 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987) (internal citation omitted). The burden can be satisfied through the submission of discovery materials. Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958 (4th Cir. 1984). To defeat motions for summary judgment, on the other hand, the nonmoving party cannot simply cast “metaphysical doubt” on the material facts, but rather must provide specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         The Court must construe the facts and documentary materials submitted by the parties, including the credibility and weight of particular evidence, in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motions. Masson v. N.Y. Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 495, 520 (1991) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255)). A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to create an issue of material fact. See Barwick, 736 F.2d at 958-59 (citing Seago, 42 F.R.D. at 632). Summary judgment is inappropriate if any material factual issue “may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         III. Analysis

         To establish a cause of action for negligence in Maryland, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the plaintiff suffered actual loss or injury; and (4) the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant's breach of the duty. See Todd v. Mass. Transit Admin., 373 Md. 149, 155 (2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Negligence is a relative term and must be decided on the facts of each particular case; ordinarily, it is a question of fact to be determined by the jury. See Fowler v. Smith, 240 Md. 240, 246 (1965).[1]

         In this case, it is undisputed that the road conditions on the relevant evening were slippery. Under Maryland law, skidding of a vehicle by itself is not evidence of negligence; rather, skidding may be evidence of negligence “if it appears that it was caused by a failure to take reasonable precaution to avoid [skidding] when the conditions at the time made such a result probable in the absence of such precaution.” Brumage v. Blubaugh, 204 Md. 144, 149 (1954) (assessing skidding in light of poor weather conditions) (internal quotation omitted). In addition, “[s]peed may be evidence of negligence where it appears that under the circumstances it was likely to endanger others who were in the exercise of due care.” Id. Thus, when a jury is presented with evidence of skidding, it may evaluate the “speed of the automobile prior to the skidding and the care in handling it, particularly in the application of the brakes . . . [to determine] whether or not there was an exercise of due care.” York Motor Express Co. v. State, 74 A.2d 12, 15 (Md. 1950).

         A. WMATA's Motion for Summary Judgment

         There is a dispute as to whether WMATA breached its duty of heightened care[2] to Plaintiff through either the manner of operating the bus in wintry conditions or the speed at which the bus was traveling just prior to the accident.

         WMATA claims that Mr. Wright was operating the bus “normally under the weather conditions.” (ECF No. 39 at 7). But Plaintiff claims that WMATA “failed in having the systems in place to provide guidance to drivers in the foreseeable event of snowy weather” and that Mr. Wright “knew it was dangerous to drive and was negligent in continuing to expose his passengers to the risks of the road that evening” (ECF No. 42 at 4; see also Wright Dep. 21-30 (explaining Mr. Wright's attempts to contact WMATA after seeing multiple accidents on the road)). Plaintiff also avers that Mr. Wright's failure to stop and avoid hitting Gafar's vehicle was in itself negligent, because ten seconds passed between the time Gafar's vehicle stopped in front of the bus and the collision, and Mr. Wright simply failed to keep a proper lookout. ...


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