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Broderick v. Deanda

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 17, 2014

Emilie Broderick, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Vincent Deanda, Defendant.

ORDER

BRIDGET S. BADE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiffs have filed a motion in limine regarding Defendant's affirmative defenses. (Doc. 118.) Plaintiffs argue that Defendant should not be allowed to directly or indirectly introduce evidence related to Plaintiffs' use or non-use of seatbelts, and that Defendant should not be allowed to assert comparative fault against Plaintiffs Emilie Broderick and Crystal Kuy.[1] ( Id. ) Defendant has filed a response to the motion in limine. (Doc. 128.)

The Court heard argument on this motion at the Final Pretrial Conference on December 19, 2013. (Doc. 132.) As stated on the record at the Final Pretrial Conference, and in the Court's December 23, 2013 Order, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion in limine, in part, with respect of the issue of seatbelt usage. (Doc. 133.) As set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' motion in limine with respect to the issue of comparative fault.

I. Factual Background

This matter arises from a two-car collision that occurred in Yuma, Arizona on August 14, 2010.[2] Plaintiffs Emilie Broderick, Nichole DeHart, and Crystal Kuy were passengers in one of the vehicles in the collision, which Defendant Vincent Deanda was driving. Plaintiffs and Defendant were in the same vehicle following a rafting trip on the Colorado River that was organized by members of their church. Plaintiffs were members of a congregation in San Diego, California, and Defendant was a member of a congregation in Yuma, Arizona. Approximately forty people participated in the rafting trip, which lasted four hours. The participants drove to the river at a point where the rafting trip would start, or the "put-in point, " and left some vehicles at this point. The participants left other vehicles at the point on the river where the rafting trip would end, or the "take-out point." Following the rafting trip, the Plaintiffs were riding with Defendant from the take-out point back to Yuma when the accident occurred.

Defendant had been drinking alcohol before the accident and later pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. Defendant admits he was negligent and that his negligent driving caused the accident. Plaintiff DeHart testified in her deposition that, before the accident, someone named "Jill" told her that Defendant had too much to drink on the rafting trip. Plaintiffs Broderick and Kuy testified in their depositions that they were not aware of Jill's comment. Plaintiffs were injured in the accident. The parties agree that the principal purposes of a trial in this matter are to have the jury determine the amount of Plaintiffs' compensatory damages for their injuries and to have the jury decide whether to award punitive damages.

II. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs filed their complaint in July 2011. (Doc. 1.) In October 2011, Defendant filed an answer asserting numerous affirmative defenses, including Plaintiffs' alleged comparative fault. (Doc. 8 at ¶ 43.) In November 2011, the parties filed a proposed joint case management plan in which Defendant again asserted a defense of comparative negligence. (Doc. 18 at 2 and 3.) Plaintiffs stated in the joint case management report that they anticipated possibly filing dispositive motions directed at Defendant's affirmative defenses, if such defenses were not later withdrawn. ( Id. at 4.) In November 2011, the Court issued a Rule 16 Scheduling Order that directed the parties to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure with respect to disclosure and discovery. (Doc. 19.)

In December 2011, Plaintiffs served discovery requests on Defendant, including requests for admissions and interrogatories directed at Defendant's affirmative defenses. Defendant responded to these discovery requests in January 2012. (Doc. 118, Ex. 1.) Defendant denied the request for admission asking whether he admitted that Plaintiffs were "not at fault for the accident in question." ( Id. ) In response to the interrogatory asking Defendant to state the factual basis of each of his affirmative defenses, Defendant stated that: "[a]ppropriate affirmative defenses have been raised, and discovery has not been completed to substantiate or provide information in response to this interrogatory. This response will be supplemented as discovery continues." ( Id. ) In response to the interrogatory asking Defendant to state all facts supporting his denial of the request for admission regarding Plaintiffs' fault, Defendant stated that one or more of the Plaintiffs failed to use a seatbelt. ( Id. )

Plaintiffs deposed Defendant in January 2012 and asked about his affirmative defenses, but Defendant was unable to provide information in response to these questions. (Doc. 118, Ex. 2.) At the deposition, the parties discussed that Defendant would file an amended complaint and possibly eliminate some affirmative defenses. ( Id. ) In February 2012, Defendant filed an amended answer and removed some affirmative defenses, but continued to assert Plaintiffs' alleged comparative fault as an affirmative defense. (Doc. 37 at ¶43.)

In March 2012, Defendant deposed the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs' counsel asserts that after the depositions he again asked defense counsel to address the factual basis of Defendant's affirmative defenses. (Doc. 118 at 6.) Plaintiffs' counsel further asserts that defense counsel stated that Defendant would assert only two of his affirmative defenses, the seatbelt defense and comparative fault against Plaintiff DeHart based on her testimony that Jill told her that Defendant had been drinking. ( Id. )

In November 2012, the parties filed a Joint Report to the Court in which Defendant stated, in part, that he had "raised two separate defenses":

First, the defense contends that one or more of the Plaintiffs should have known that Mr. Deanda was intoxicated before entering into the Deanda vehicle and should have refused to ride with him. Based on this allegation, the defense contends that one or more of the ...

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