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Haines v. Get Air LLC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 25, 2019

Blake Haines, Plaintiff,
Get Air LLC, Defendant.



         Pending before the Court is Defendant Get Air LLC’s (“GALLC”) Motion to Bifurcate Trial. (Doc. 329.) The Motion is fully briefed. (Docs. 334, 336.) For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be partially granted as set forth below.[1]

         I. Background

         The procedural history of the above-captioned matter dates back to January 2015; the Court will summarize only the portions of that history that are relevant to the pending Motion to Bifurcate.

         Plaintiff Blake Haines alleges that on September 8, 2013, he suffered a catastrophic cervical injury resulting in paralysis while attempting a multiple flip into a foam pit at a Tucson, Arizona trampoline park known as Get Air Tucson. (Doc. 84 at 1-2, 4, 10.)[2] On March 1, 2016, GALLC moved for its dismissal from this action for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), arguing that it is a Utah company, that it has conducted no business in Arizona, and that it was not involved in the design, construction, or operation of the trampoline park at which Plaintiff was injured. (Doc. 97.) On February 13, 2017, Magistrate Judge Eric J. Markovich issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that this Court deny GALLC’s Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 158.) Judge Markovich found that Plaintiff had established a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction because there was evidence indicating that GALLC created a generic employee handbook for use at other Get Air trampoline parks and Plaintiff’s claims arose from allegedly defective safety rules contained in that employee handbook. (Id. at 15-17) This Court adopted Judge Markovich’s Report and Recommendation, finding that there was “a factual dispute regarding” whether the generic employee handbook had been created on behalf of GALLC or another company called Trampoline Parks, LLC, and that Judge Markovich had “appropriately resolved the factual dispute in Plaintiff’s favor” for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss resolved without an evidentiary hearing. (Doc. 172 at 6.)

         GALLC thereafter moved for summary judgment (Doc. 238), and Judge Markovich issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that summary judgment be granted as to Plaintiff’s punitive damages claim but otherwise denied (Doc. 266). In adopting that Report and Recommendation, this Court found-in relevant part- that GALLC’s “undertaking to create safety rules for other Get Air trampoline parks” in a generic employee handbook gave rise to a “duty to exercise reasonable care in the development of the safety rules” contained in that handbook. (Doc. 276 at 3-6.)

         Motions in limine have been resolved and this action has been scheduled for a two-week jury trial commencing November 5, 2019. (Doc. 300; see also Docs. 318, 321.)

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court may, “[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize . . . order a separate trial of one or more separate issues . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b). Rule 42 “confers broad discretion” upon district courts, Hangarter v. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 373 F.3d 998, 1021 (9th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation omitted), and clearly authorizes district courts “to separate trials into liability and damage phases, ” Estate of Diaz v. City of Anaheim, 840 F.3d 592, 601 (9th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation omitted). Bifurcation is appropriate “to avoid the risk of prejudice, ” Estate of Diaz, 840 F.3d at 601, or to “permit deferral of costly and possibly unnecessary proceedings pending resolution of potentially dispositive preliminary issues, ” Jinro Am. Inc. v. Secure Investments, Inc., 266 F.3d 993, 998 (9th Cir. 2001).

         III. Discussion

         GALLC argues that bifurcation of the trial in this matter into separate liability and damage phases would prevent unfair prejudice to GALLC, promote judicial economy, and not result in any prejudice to Plaintiff. (Doc. 329 at 1.) GALLC argues that liability in this case is hotly contested and that the liability issues are “nuanced and complex, ” requiring the jury to determine (1) whether GALLC “tried to influence the safety protocols at a park in another state, ” (2) whether the employee monitoring the foam pits at the time of Plaintiff’s injury would have attempted to prevent Plaintiff from performing a multiple flip had the employee handbook contained a prohibition on that maneuver; and (3) whether Plaintiff would have stopped before attempting the maneuver if the employee had intervened. (Id. at 2-3.) GALLC argues that “this extended liability analysis will be unfairly overshadowed” by detailed, lengthy, and emotional descriptions of Plaintiff’s alleged damages, creating a substantial risk the jury will determine liability based on sympathy and emotion. (Id. at 3, 5-6.) GALLC further argues that Plaintiff’s injury and damages “have absolutely nothing to do with liability” since GALLC admits that Plaintiff’s injury was caused “by an unsuccessful triple flip maneuver.” (Id. at 4-5.) Finally, GALLC argues that bifurcation will promote judicial economy because it may eliminate the need for extensive evidence and testimony concerning Plaintiff’s injury and damages. (Id. at 7-8.)

         In response, Plaintiff argues that none of the justifications for bifurcation exist in this case, and that GALLC’s Motion hinges upon inaccurately portraying “an enormous gap between the strength of liability and the severity of damages.” (Doc. 334 at 1-2.) Plaintiff argues that his liability theory is easily understandable and that the jury will not be tasked with determining whether GALLC tried to influence the safety protocols at Get Air Tucson because that issue was already decided in the context of GALLC’s jurisdictional challenge. (Id. at 2-3, 5-10.) Plaintiff also argues that issues of liability and injury are intertwined, as Plaintiff will present expert testimony that his injury is “the result of the very reason” why the employee handbook should have included a “rule against double or triple flips.” (Id. at 2, 8.) Plaintiff also avers that multiple lay witnesses who will testify to his injury will also provide testimony establishing that he would have heeded a warning against performing multiple flips into the foam pits. (Id. at 8-9.) Plaintiff argues that bifurcation will not result in any savings in litigation costs, time, and judicial resources and that any risk of prejudice to GALLC can be mitigated with jury instructions. (Id. at 9-11.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that bifurcation would prejudice him by creating a subtle incentive for the jury to return a defense verdict if it is informed of the bifurcation, or by causing unfair surprise to the jury if it is not so informed. (Id. at 9, 11.)

         In its Reply, GALLC argues that whether it or Trampoline Parks, LLC prepared a generic employee handbook for wider dissemination to other Get Air trampoline parks is a disputed issue of material fact, and that the Court’s summary judgment finding on the existence of a duty did not take that disputed preliminary factual issue from the jury. (Doc. 336 at 5-8.) GALLC also continues to argue that other liability issues-including whether the Get Air Tucson employee monitoring the foam pits at the time of Plaintiff’s injury would have enforced a rule against multiple flips if the employee handbook had contained one-are hotly contested. (Id. at 8-10.) GALLC maintains that this action is a classic case for bifurcation because Plaintiff’s damages are severe, the liability evidence is wholly separate from the emotionally charged evidence of damages, and jury instructions will be ineffective in preventing unfair prejudice to GALLC. (Id. at 2-3.)

         A. ...

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