United States District Court, D. Oregon, Pendleton Division
OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Norman Poe brings this negligence action to recover damages
for injuries he sustained in a collision between two
semitrucks. Plaintiff and third-party defendants Swift
Transportation of Arizona, LLC (“Swift”) and
Zakee Watson have moved to bifurcate the trial on
plaintiff's negligence claim and the various property
damages claims alleged by Old Dominion Freight Lines, Inc.
(“Old Dominion”) and Swift. The Court heard oral
argument on May 22, 2019. For the following reasons, the
Court DENIES the Motion to Bifurcate.
lawsuit arises from a set of multi-vehicle collisions that
occurred east of Baker City, OR in January of 2015. Defendant
Ryan Cook was driving a semitruck for Old Dominion and lost
control of the vehicle, causing the vehicle to jack-knife and
block the eastbound lane. Watson was driving a semitruck for
Swift, in which plaintiff was an unrestrained passenger.
Watson also lost control of his truck and collided with the
Old Dominion vehicle in the lane that was blocked by Cook,
and Watson's truck was then struck by one or more
additional semitrucks. Plaintiff was injured as a result of
these collisions and Old Dominion sustained property damage
to its vehicle and cargo.
filed a negligence claim for personal injuries against Cook
and Old Dominion in this Court in January of 2017. In their
answer, Cook and Old Dominion responded with a counterclaim
for property damage against plaintiff and a third-party claim
against Swift and Watson for the same. Plaintiff and
third-party defendants have now filed a motion to bifurcate
the trial between the personal injury claim and property
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b), “the court may
order a separate trial of one or more separate issues,
claims, crossclaims, or third-party claims” for
“convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and
economize” the proceedings. The drafters of the Federal
Rules did not intend the routine bifurcation of trials.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b) advisory committee's note to 1966
amendment. The moving party has the burden to prove that
bifurcation is appropriate. Benson Tower Condo. Owners
Ass'n v. Victaulic Co., 150 F.Supp.3d 1184, 1208 (D.
Or. 2015). The court has broad, discretionary authority to
bifurcate claims or issues. Hirst v. Gertzen, 676
F.2d 1252, 1261 (9th Cir. 1982).
has moved to bifurcate his personal injury claim from the
property damages claims. Plaintiff asserts that bifurcation
is required to avoid prejudice and confusing the jury.
Specifically, plaintiff argues that absent bifurcation, the
jury would hear irrelevant evidence, the trial would run
afoul of the ORS 656.595(2) prohibition against pleading or
admitting into evidence the existence of workers'
compensation payments, and that these harms cannot be cured
through jury instructions. Plaintiff proposes that a jury be
empaneled to hear plaintiff's case, deliberate, and
submit a verdict regarding plaintiff, but then continue and
hear the property damages claims, deliberate, and submit a
separate verdict on those claims. Plaintiff explains that
this approach has the added advantage of encouraging
settlement if the jury initially finds for plaintiff.
disagree. As an initial matter, it would be improper for the
Court to decide the bifurcation issue based on the
possibility of encouraging settlement. That issue aside,
there is nothing uniquely complex about having a crossclaim
and third-party claim for property damage within the same
trial as a claim for negligence. Jurors are routinely
expected to hear cases involving difficult and complicated
civil matters. There will be common questions of law and fact
since the same facts will inform the potential liability on
all claims, i.e., the various collisions, allocation
of liability, and resulting damages, and the same experts
will likely be needed.
respect to plaintiff's specifics arguments for
bifurcation, the existence of claims irrelevant to
plaintiff's claims is not inherently prejudicial and does
not warrant bifurcation. As for the workers' compensation
issue, that issue is also the subject of plaintiff's
partial motion for summary judgment. Regardless of the
resolution of plaintiff's summary judgment motion,
plaintiff presents no argument as to why limiting
instructions would be insufficient to guard against the
jury's consideration of workers' compensation
payments in their assessment of the case. Thus, the Court
believes that any confusion or prejudice resulting from the
workers' compensation issue can sufficiently be addressed
through limiting instructions. Even if there is some
potential lingering prejudice, it would not be sufficient to
warrant bifurcation given the relative simplicity of this
case compared with others that jurors are regularly expected
Motion to Bifurcate ...