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Poe v. Cook

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Pendleton Division

August 14, 2019

NORMAN POE, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
RYAN COOK, an individual; and OLD DOMINION FREIGHT LINE, INC., a Virginia corporation, Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
SWIFT TRANSPORTATION COMPANY OF ARIZONA, a foreign corporation; and ZAKEE WATSON, an individual, Third-Party Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PATRICIA SULLIVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case concerns a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 84. Plaintiff Norman Poe, an employee of third-party defendant Swift Transportation Company of Arizona (“Swift”), has brought a negligence action against another trucker, defendant Ryan Cook, and his employer, Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. (“Old Dominion”). Compl. (Docket No. 1). Defendants have filed a Third-Party Complaint against Swift and another Swift employee, Zakee Watson, a trucker trainee under Poe's supervision. Ans. (Docket No. 14). Plaintiff has moved for partial summary judgment on two of defendants' affirmative defenses. (Docket No. 43). Defendants oppose. (Docket No. 44). The Court heard oral argument on May 22, 2019 (Docket Nos. 55, 61), after which it received supplemental briefing (Docket Nos. 58-60, 65).[1] For the following reasons, the Court DENIES plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Because plaintiff's Motion considers the viability of defendants' affirmative defenses as a matter of law, and does not dispute the facts or evidence underlying them, the Court lays out the following facts, which the parties have largely agreed upon in their submissions (Docket Nos. 1, 14, 43, 44, 49, 51, 58-60), as background to its analysis of the legal questions presented.

         On January 17, 2015, Ryan Cook was driving an Old Dominion semi-truck, pulling two trailers, driving eastbound on Interstate 84 near Baker City, Oregon. Compl. ¶ 6. Cook was an Old Dominion employee. Id. Behind Cook's truck, Zakee Watson was driving a Swift semi-truck/trailer combination, in which Norman Poe, Watson's trainer, was a passenger. Ans. ¶ 3. Watson, a trainee, and Poe were Swift employees. Id.

         Road conditions were hazardous that day due to dense fog and ice. Compl. ¶ 7. Cook lost control of the semi-truck/trailer and it jackknifed, blocking the highway's eastbound lane. Id. ¶ 8. Watson's truck collided with Cook's. Id. Several other semi-trucks then struck Watson and Poe's truck. Def. Opp'n, at 3 (Docket No. 49). Poe was seriously injured. Compl. ¶ 11. Because Poe's injuries occurred during the course of his employment, he was covered by and received benefits from Swift's workers' compensation. Pl. MPSJ, at 2 (Docket No. 58).

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In their Answer, defendants state three affirmative defenses, including:

         FIRST AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE

         (Comparative Negligence)

         5.

         Defendants reallege paragraphs 1-4 of their answer and further allege that, at all material times, plaintiff Poe was employed by Swift Transportation as a driver/trainer and supervised Swift Transportation employee Watson, a driver/trainee. Plaintiff Poe was aware of the adverse weather and road conditions in sufficient time to prevent the Swift Transportation semi-truck and trailer from colliding with the [Old Dominion] trailer(s). Any injuries and damages he sustained were caused by his own negligence in one or more of the following ways:

a) In failing to instruct trainee Watson to slow down sufficiently to bring the Swift Transportation tractor-trailer to a stop before the collision;
b) In failing to instruct trainee Watson to promptly pull the Swift Transportation tractor-trailer over to the shoulder of the road prior to the collision;
c) In failing to instruct trainee Watson to refrain from down-shifting the Swift Transportation tractor-trailer instead of applying its brakes, resulting in the collision with the [Old Dominion] trailer(s);
d) In failing to secure himself with a safety harness once he was aware of the adverse ...

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