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Reyes v. Town of Gilbert

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

July 25, 2019

Cindy REYES, et al., Plaintiffs/Appellees,
v.
TOWN OF GILBERT, Defendant/Appellant.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County, Nos. CV2013-016971, CV2015-004464, CV2015-006176 (Consolidated), The Honorable Dawn M. Bergin, Judge.

         Breyer Law Offices, P.C., Phoenix, By Mark P. Breyer, Edward M. Ladley, Brian C. Fawber, Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellees

         Grasso Law Firm, P.C., Chandler, By Robert Grasso, Jr., Kim S. Alvarado, Stephanie L. Samuelson, Counsel for Defendant/Appellant

         Presiding Judge Lawrence F. Winthrop delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Kent E. Cattani and Judge Diane M. Johnsen joined.

          OPINION

         WINTHROP, Judge:

         [¶1] In this personal injury action, a jury trial resulted in a defense verdict in favor of the Town of Gilbert ("the Town"). The plaintiff, Joseph Reyes ("Reyes"), then moved for a new trial, which the superior court granted, finding the Town had violated Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 26.1. The Town appeals the court’s new-trial order. For the following reasons, we reverse the order for a new trial and direct the superior court on remand to reinstate the jury verdict in favor of the Town.

          FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

          I. The Underlying Incident

         [¶2] Reyes suffered injuries in a single-car accident in which Albert Lopez was the driver. On the night of May 18, 2013, Reyes, then sixteen years old, went with some friends to an unsupervised party in Chandler, where they drank a substantial amount of alcohol. Lopez arrived at the party after midnight. He had been drinking alcohol throughout the day, and he had also smoked marijuana and used cocaine.

         [¶3] At approximately 1:00 a.m., Lopez announced the party was moving to his house. Lopez and three other teenagers, including Reyes, got into Lopez’ truck. The truck sped eastbound on Ocotillo Road, ran a stop sign at the Greenfield Road intersection, and continued recklessly speeding through a residential subdivision. Two passengers, including Reyes, asked Lopez to slow down, but he did not do so, even after the pavement ended and Ocotillo Road transitioned to a narrow dirt path/road. Instead, Lopez continued on; the passengers later estimated the truck was going between sixty and ninety miles per hour.

         [¶4] A canal intersected the road 765 feet east of the end of the pavement. As Lopez continued toward the canal, he eventually

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braked, but was unable to stop. The truck vaulted the canal and slammed into the east embankment.

         [¶5] Lopez, who had a blood alcohol level of .198 and tested positive for cocaine, later testified he could not remember the crash or driving after leaving the party.[1] Reyes, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was seriously injured in the crash.

          II. The Legal Proceedings

         [¶6] In December 2013, Reyes’ mother, Cindy, timely filed a complaint, individually and on behalf of her minor son, naming numerous defendants, including the Town. The complaint alleged the Town was negligent because it "failed to properly light the area, provide signage on the road or have adequate warnings to alert travelers that Ocotillo Road was ending and that an open canal existed across the roadway" at the end of the dirt road.

         [¶7] By the time of trial, Reyes had turned eighteen and the only claim remaining was his negligence claim against the Town. During the course of the litigation, Reyes filed twenty-four supplemental Rule 26.1 disclosure statements, and in each he continued to allege as the basis for his claim that the Town had "failed to properly light the area, provide signage on the road or have adequate warnings to alert travelers that Ocotillo Road was ending and that an open canal existed across the roadway."

         [¶8] Before trial, the superior court granted the Town’s unopposed motion to exclude the expert testimony of Todd Springer, Reyes’ "lighting expert." Reyes thereafter proceeded on a single liability theory— that the Town was negligent in maintaining Ocotillo Road east of Greenfield Road. Relying on a traffic engineering expert, Dr. Robert Bleyl, Reyes argued that the Town failed to provide proper warning signs and that this failure was a cause of his injuries. Specifically, Dr. Bleyl opined that the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices ("MUTCD") required ...


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