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Nelson v. Acosta-Corrales

United States District Court, District of Kansas

March 17, 2014

AMANDA NELSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOSE T. ACOSTA-CORRALES, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JULIE A. ROBINSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This action arises out of a motor vehicle accident that resulted in the death of Christopher Hays (“Hays”). Plaintiff Larinda Hays, the personal representative of Hays’ estate, and Hays’ other heirs-at-law, bring survival, wrongful death and negligence claims against Defendant Jose T. Acosta-Corrales, the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, and DeAngelo Brothers, Inc., Acosta’s employer. This matter comes before the Court on Defendants’ motions for partial summary judgment (Docs. 80, 128) on the survival claim of Plaintiff Larinda Hays, the personal representative of Hays’ estate (“Plaintiff”). Defendants claim there exists no genuine issue of material fact as to the deceased’s unconscious condition during the time between the accident and Hays’ death, and that therefore Plaintiff’s survival claim is barred under Kansas law. The motions are fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees that Plaintiff cannot recover for post-impact pain and suffering under the survival statute and therefore grants Defendants’ first motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 80). The Court further finds that to the extent Defendants’ second motion for partial summary judgment on the survival claim seeks dismissal as to recovery for post-impact pain and suffering, it is likewise granted as to that claim. However, because the Court finds that the estate may recover for hospital expenses and personal property damage to Hays’ motorcycle that accrued before his death, the Court denies the second motion for partial summary judgment as to those survivor claims. Accordingly, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants’ second motion for partial summary judgment on the survival claim (Doc. 128).

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact” and that it is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[1] In applying this standard, the court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[2] “There is no genuine issue of material fact unless the evidence, construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”[3] A fact is “material” if, under the applicable substantive law, it is “essential to the proper disposition of the claim.”[4] An issue of fact is “genuine” if “‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.’”[5]

The moving party initially must show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.[6] In attempting to meet this standard, a movant that does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial need not negate the other party’s claim; rather, the movant need simply point out to the court a lack of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party’s claim.[7]

Once the movant has met this initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”[8] The nonmoving party may not simply rest upon her pleadings to satisfy her burden.[9] Rather, the nonmoving party must “set forth specific facts that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.”[10] To accomplish this, the facts “must be identified by reference to an affidavit, a deposition transcript, or a specific exhibit incorporated therein.”[11] The non-moving party cannot avoid summary judgment by repeating conclusory opinions, allegations unsupported by specific facts, or speculation.[12]

Finally, summary judgment is not a “disfavored procedural shortcut;” on the contrary, it is an important procedure “designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.”[13] In responding to a motion for summary judgment, “a party cannot rest on ignorance of facts, on speculation, or on suspicion and may not escape summary judgment in the mere hope that something will turn up at trial.”[14]

II. The Uncontroverted Facts

The following material facts are uncontroverted by the parties, and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of Plaintiff. On or about June 7, 2012, Christopher Hays, while riding on a motorcycle, collided with a truck driven by Defendant Jose Acosta-Corrales. As a result of this collision, Hays sustained significant life threatening and disabling burns, fractures, and bodily injuries. Following the accident, emergency responders arrived on the scene and Hays was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Salina, Kansas, and then transported to Via Christi Memorial Hospital in Wichita, Kansas. Hays died at Via Christi on June 11, 2012, as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.

At the time of his death, Plaintiff Larinda Hays was Hays’ spouse and heir at law. Plaintiff C.I.H. was Hays’ minor son and is an heir at law. On April 2, 2013, Larinda Hays was appointed as Administrator In the Matter of the Estate of Christopher Scott Hays, Case No. 12 PR 182, in the Saline County District Court, Salina, Kansas.

III. Discussion

Under Kansas law there are two different causes of action that may arise when a person’s death is allegedly caused by the negligence of another: a wrongful death action and a survival action.[15] A wrongful death claim is based upon any loss suffered by all heirs after the decedent’s death.[16] A survival action allows the personal representative of the decedent’s estate to recover damages accrued by the injured party between the time of injury and death, including pain and suffering experienced by the injured party between the time of injury and the time of death.[17]The instant motions pertain only to the survival claim asserted by Larinda Hays, in her capacity as the administrator of the estate. The Pretrial Order states that the estate seeks damages on the survival claim for “pain and suffering, medical benefits, property damages, expenses, and/or a survival action, pursuant to K.S.A. 1801.”[18] Defendants’ first motion for summary judgment argues that pain and suffering damages are unavailable to the estate as a matter of law. Defendants’ second motion argues that summary judgment should be granted as to any other damages asserted under the survival statute.

A. Pain and Suffering

Kansas follows the majority rule that damages are recoverable only for pain and suffering consciously experienced.[19] Although the conscious experience of pain and suffering may be inferred in certain situations—like in a swimming pool drowning accident because of the time between the victim’s falling into the water and the actual drowning—such an inference is impermissible in traumatic accidents like car collisions, where there was sufficient impact to render a victim immediately unconscious.[20] Likewise, evidence merely showing the deceased’s vital functions continued for some period of time after the accident is not enough for pain and suffering damages under Kansas’s survival statute.[21] Instead, evidence must exist showing that a deceased consciously suffered in the time between the trauma and death; when the evidence is questionable, “in those ...


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