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Guzman v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 28, 2017

Alberto Guzman, Plaintiff,
Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Defendant.


          Neil V. Wake Senior United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 28).


         Plaintiff Alberto Guzman (“Guzman”) is an insurance salesman and motorcyclist from Arizona. Defendant Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (“Liberty Mutual”) is a Massachusetts corporation with its principal place of business in Massachusetts. Liberty Mutual was Guzman's motorcycle insurance carrier when the events below took place.

         A. The Accident

         On September 9, 2015, at around 2:30-3:00 p.m., Guzman was riding his Harley Davidson home from work. He was using the high-occupancy vehicle (“HOV”) lane on Phoenix's Loop 202 highway headed west toward I-10.

         From this point, Guzman has his own version of the events.[1] Guzman's current story is that traffic in the HOV lane was moving such that he could travel at about 37-38 MPH. Shortly after merging onto I-10, he claims, an unidentified phantom vehicle quickly cut him off from his right side. Guzman states that the phantom vehicle was a light color but can remember nothing about the car's make or model or about the driver. Although the two vehicles never collided, they came very close. Guzman says he needed to suddenly apply his brakes, causing him to fall off the bike. He did not deliberately lay the bike down, a technique motorcyclists sometimes use to prevent greater physical harm; instead, when he applied the brakes, they locked up, he lost control, and the bike slid onto its side. Guzman sustained various injuries, including fractures on his right arm and big toe, as well as road rash on his chest and legs. The arm fractures required surgery.

         Others remember the accident and the aftermath differently. Officer Clinton Schmidt arrived shortly after the action to investigate the scene. As paramedics transported Guzman to Good Samaritan Hospital, Schmidt spoke to two witnesses: Stephanie Skor and Kovasky Aguiar. Schmidt avers that neither witness mentioned the phantom vehicle. Rather, they each saw that the car in front of Guzman halted very quickly-and that Guzman was himself unable to stop safely.

         Liberty Mutual later deposed Skor, and she expanded upon her earlier remarks to the officer. Skor apparently is keenly aware of motorcyclists, as some in her family are riders and a friend recently perished in a motorcycle-related accident. She thus noticed Guzman in the HOV lane about two minutes before the accident. She recalls, unlike Guzman, that traffic in the HOV lane had slowed to the same stop-and-go speed of the other lanes-about 10-15 MPH. Skor also said, “I feel like the other lanes were going a lot quicker than the carpool lane, to be completely honest with you.” (Doc. 29, Ex. F at 18:18-20.) Guzman points out that Skor disagrees with Schmidt's diagram of the accident. (Doc. 31-2 at 34:4-24.) Guzman does not, however, dispute Skor's statement “that immediately before [Guzman] laid down his motorcycle, both the car in front of her and the car in front of [him] came to a sudden stop, ” which is when he fell over and landed in front of her car. (Doc. 29 at ¶ 25.)

         Aguiar, by contrast, is missing. Guzman says he talked by phone with Aguiar after the accident. He asserts that Aguiar told Guzman that he had seen the phantom vehicle. Contradicting that assertion, Schmidt says Aguiar's statement was consistent with Skor's. Unfortunately, Aguiar never responded to Liberty Mutual's deposition subpoena, with which he was properly served, so he has not helped to sort this out.

         Once Schmidt was done at the scene, he visited Guzman in the hospital to get his statement.[2] According to Schmidt's accident report, and consistent with what the witnesses had told the officer, Guzman “stated that he was traveling westbound . . . when traffic suddenly stopped and he was unable to stop before laying his motorcycle down and falling off of it.” (Doc. 29, Ex. B at 4.) Nowhere does the report mention the phantom vehicle. In addition, Schmidt cited Guzman for driving on the “highway at a speed greater than [was] reasonable and prudent under the circumstances, conditions[, ] and actual and potential hazards then existing.” (Doc. 29, Ex. C at 29:5-29:8 (referencing A.R.S. § 28-701(A)).) At Skor's deposition, she largely agreed with how Schmidt described the events. (Doc. 29, Ex. F at 40:19-41:16.)[3] For his part, Guzman denies that this is what he told the officer. (Doc. 31-1 at 181:13-182:2.)

         B. Liberty Mutual's Investigation

         Guzman contacted Liberty Mutual on September 10, 2015, the day after the accident. Over the course of the next month and a half, the insurer made payments to Guzman for several things, including the towing of and repairs to the bike and the damage to his helmet. These property-based payments totaled $4, 483.32 under his casualty coverage.

         The dispute in this case, then, is whether Liberty Mutual should pay Guzman's medical expenses under his uninsured motorist coverage. On October 13, 2015, Liberty Mutual assigned Christina Cross, a Senior Claim Resolution Specialist, to Guzman's case. Although Cross called Guzman that day, the two were unable to connect by phone until October 19, 2015. Cross then recorded ...

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