United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
JAN BYRD, as spouse and next friend of Raymond Byrd, deceased, Plaintiff,
ACE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY and TYSON FOODS, INC., Defendants. GROENDYKE TRANSPORT, INC., Intervenor.
OPINION AND ORDER
V. EAGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are the following motions: Plaintiff's
Motion in Limine (Dkt. # 37); Defendant Ace American
Insurance Company and Tyson Foods, Inc's Motion in Limine
and Brief in Support (Dkt. # 38); Plaintiff's Second
Motion in Limine (Dkt. # 80); Defendant Ace American
Insurance Company and Tyson Foods, Inc.'s First
Supplemental Motion in Limine and Brief in Support (Dkt. #
81); and Defendant Ace American Insurance Company and Tyson
Foods, Inc.'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and
Brief in Support (Dkt. # 85).
March 6, 2017, plaintiff Jan Byrd filed this case on behalf
of her deceased husband, Raymond Byrd, alleging claims of
negligence, negligent entrustment, and wrongful death against
Ace American Insurance Company (Ace) and Tyson Foods, Inc.
(Tyson). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive
damages in excess of $75, 000. This case arises out of a
traffic accident that occurred on January 3, 2016. Byrd was
operating a tractor-trailer owned by Groendyke Transport,
Inc. (Groendyke), and he was involved in a collision with
Kent Redd. Dkt. # 2, at 2. Redd was operating a
tractor-trailer owned by Tyson. Id. The collision
occurred on Highway 75 in Washington County, Oklahoma, and
both Byrd and Redd were traveling northbound on Highway 75.
Id. at 3. Byrd suffered serious personal injuries
and died following the accident.
claims Byrd was driving in the right lane of northbound
Highway 75 and Redd was traveling northbound in the left lane
of Highway 75. Dkt. # 82, at 2. Plaintiff alleges that
Redd attempted to make a right-hand turn from the left lane
and the two tractor-trailers collided. Plaintiff's
version of the events is supported by the testimony of three
eyewitnesses who were in vehicles behind the two
tractor-trailers. Mark Kane testified in his deposition that
he observed Redd's tractor-trailer turn into Byrd's
tractor-trailer, and the front of Byrd's vehicle was
pushed underneath the other tractor-trailer. Dkt. # 82, at 3.
Mark Marshall Kane also observed the accident, and he states
that Tyson tractor-trailer driven by Redd crossed the center
line to initiate the collision. Dkt. # 82-3, at 3. Katherine
Anne Kane testified that the two tractor-trailers were
side-by-side before the accident occurred and the Tyson
vehicle was in the left lane, and she claims that she
observed the collision. Dkt. # 82-4, at 3.
offer a completely different version of the events leading up
to the accident. Defendants rely on GPS tracking data from
the two vehicles, and claim that Redd was driving in the
right-hand lane just before the accident. Dkt. # 87, at 2.
Redd had left a nearby Walmart Distribution Center (WDC), and
he had slowed down to 12 miles per hour in order to make a
right-hand turn. Id. Plaintiff's accident
reconstruction expert, Larry Owen, states that Byrd's
tractor-trailer was going at least 50 miles per hour when the
accident occurred. Dkt. # 87-1, at 3. Defendants state that
the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) troopers who investigated
the accident determined that Byrd was at fault for the
accident and that they found no credible evidence that Redd
entered the left-hand lane at any time before the accident.
Id. at 4.
argue that plaintiff has no evidence to support her claim of
negligent entrustment or her demand for punitive damages, and
they ask the Court to enter summary judgment on these aspects
of plaintiffs' claims. Dkt. # 85. There is no evidence
submitted in support of defendants' motion for partial
summary judgment, and the motion is based solely on an
alleged lack of evidence to support plaintiff's claim of
negligent entrustment and her demand for punitive damages.
Plaintiff responds that Tyson ignored evidence that Redd
suffered from sleep apnea and that Redd had exceeded his
hours of service at the time of the accident, and there is a
genuine dispute as to whether driver fatigue caused or
contributed to the accident. Dkt. # 90, at 10. Plaintiff
claims that this evidence gives rise to a genuine dispute as
to whether Tyson negligently entrusted a tractor-trailer to
Redd and consequently acted with reckless disregard for the
rights of others.
judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is appropriate where
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
(1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 250 (1986); Kendall v. Watkins, 998 F.2d 848,
850 (10th Cir. 1993). The plain language of Rule 56(c)
mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time
for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to
make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an
element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317. “Summary judgment
procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural
shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules
as a whole, which are designed ‘to secure the just,
speedy and inexpensive determination of every
action.'” Id. at 327.
the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its
opponent must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the
record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of
fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no
‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
586-87 (1986) (citations omitted). “The mere existence
of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's
position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on
which the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for the
plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. In
essence, the inquiry for the Court is “whether the
evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one
party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at
250. In its review, the Court construes the record in the
light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment.
Garratt v. Walker, 164 F.3d 1249, 1251 (10th Cir.
Redd was hired by Tyson, he underwent a physical examination
and he notified the examining physician that a physician had
previously told him that he had sleep apnea. Dkt. # 90-1, at
2. Redd passed his physical and he received a two year
certificate to drive a tractor-trailer. Id. at 4.
Redd testified in his deposition that he had been fired by a
previous employer, because his neck was “too
thick” and the employer believed that he had sleep
apnea. Dkt. # 90-2, at 9. Redd admits that he was diagnosed
with sleep apnea and he did have a sleep apnea machine at one
time. Id. at 19-20. However, Tyson did not require
any additional sleep apnea testing or that he use a sleep
apnea machine. Id. at 22. At the time of the
accident, Redd had exceeded the number of hours that he was
permitted to operate a tractor-trailer without rest, and he
was operating his vehicle under a “convenience rule,
” under which Tyson authorized him to drive up to 20
miles to find a location to rest. Id. at 3-5. Redd
could have rested while his truck was being unloaded at the
WDC, but he claims that he was not tired and he did not rest
during that time. Id. at 14-15. He states that he
was fully alert at the time of the accident. Id. at
entrustment of an automobile occurs when the automobile is
supplied, directly or through a third person, for the use of
another whom the supplier knows, or should know, because of
youth, inexperience, or otherwise, is likely to use it in a
manner involving unreasonable risk of bodily harm to others .
. . .” Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co., LLC, 306
P.3d 544, 548 (Okla. 2013). To establish a claim of negligent
entrustment, the plaintiff must show that a reasonable person
knew or should have known that the person entrusted with the
vehicle would be likely to operate it in a careless,
reckless, or incompetent manner. Green v. Harris, 70
P.3d 866, 869 (Okla. 2003). A necessary element of a
negligent entrustment claim is that injury result from the
driver's careless or reckless operation of the vehicle.
Clark v. Turner, 99 P.3d 736, 743 (Okla.Civ.App.
argue that plaintiff has no evidence that Redd's
negligence caused any injury to Byrd or that Tyson should
have known that Redd was likely to operate the tractor in a
reckless or incompetent manner. Dkt. # 85, at 2. However,
plaintiff has come forward with evidence that Redd suffered
from sleep apnea and that he notified Tyson that he had
previously been told that he suffered from sleep apnea. When
combined with evidence that Redd exceeded his legal hours of
service, this could support a finding that Tyson negligently
entrusted a tractor-trailer to a sleep-deprived driver. The
circumstances giving rise to the accident are disputed, and
plaintiff has eyewitness testimony that supports a viable
theory that Redd's driving caused the accident. It is
undisputed that Byrd suffered personal injuries in the
accident, and plaintiff has produced evidence to support each
element of a negligent entrustment claim. Defendants'
motion for summary judgment should be denied as to
plaintiff's negligent entrustment claim.
Court also finds that the same evidence supporting
plaintiff's claim of negligent entrustment could support
a finding that Tyson acted with reckless disregard for the
rights of others. Punitive damages may be awarded only if the
plaintiff shows by clear and convincing evidence that the
defendant has been “guilty of reckless disregard for
the rights of others.” Okla. Stat. tit. 23, § 9.1.
A person acts in reckless disregard for the rights of others
if he “was either aware, or did not care, that there
was a substantial and unnecessary risk that [his] conduct
would cause serious injury to others.” Gowens v.
Barstow, 364 P.3d 644, 652 (Okla. 2015). The trial court
must determine as a matter of law whether the plaintiff has
produced sufficient evidence that a reasonable jury could
find that a defendant acted with reckless disregard before
instructing the jury as to punitive damages. Badillo v.
Mic Century Ins. Co., 121 P.3d 1080, 1106 (Okla. 2005).
Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff,
there is eyewitness testimony supporting plaintiff's
argument that Redd crossed into the other lane and initiated
contacted between the two tractor-trailers. Plaintiff has
also produced evidence that at the time of the accident that
Redd had exceeded the number of hours he could remain in
service, and there is evidence that Redd suffers from sleep