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Buck v. Northern New England Telephone Operations LLC

United States District Court, D. Vermont

April 17, 2017

SCHATZILEIN BUCK, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND TELEPHONE OPERATIONS, LLC, Defendant. and YOLANDA BLAIR, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND TELEPHONE OPERATIONS, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM K. SESSIONS III DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Schatzilein Buck and Yolanda Blair bring this action claiming injuries resulting from a 2011 automobile accident. The accident occurred when the sedan driven by Ms. Buck collided with a telephone company utility truck. Plaintiffs claim that the driver of the truck was at fault, and that Defendant is liable for the driver's negligence.

         The Court held a three-day jury trial in November 2016. The jury found in favor of the Defendant, concluding that Ms. Buck and Ms. Blair had failed to prove negligence. Plaintiffs now move the Court for a new trial. For the reasons set forth below, their motion is denied.

         I. Legal Standard

         The decision to grant a motion for new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) rests within the sound discretion of the district court. Sequa Corp. v. GBJ Corp., 156 F.3d 136, 143 (2d Cir. 1998).[1] “Unlike judgment as a matter of law, a new trial may be granted even if there is substantial evidence supporting the jury's verdict.” DLC Mgmt. Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 134 (2d Cir. 1998). While a court may weigh the relevant evidence and order a new trial even if the jury's verdict is supported by substantial evidence, “it is well settled that a trial judge's disagreement with the jury's verdict is not sufficient reason to grant a new trial.” Mallis v. Bankers Trust Co., 717 F.2d 683, 691 (2d Cir. 1983) (citations omitted). A motion for new trial should not be granted unless the Court “is convinced that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or that the verdict is a miscarriage of justice.” Kosmynka v. Polaris Indus., Inc., 462 F.3d 74, 82 (2d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted); see also DLC Mgmt. Corp., 163 F.3d at 134 (the court should only grant such a motion when the jury's verdict is “egregious”) (citing Dunlap-McCuller v. Riese Org., 980 F.2d 153, 158 (2d Cir. 1992)).

         II. The Jury's Conclusion as to Negligence

         Plaintiffs first contend that the jury reached the wrong result on the question of negligence. As noted above, this case centers on an automobile accident. On August 2, 2011, Ms. Buck was driving a 2000 Mitsubishi sedan on Route 5 in Irasburg, Vermont. The relevant portion of Route 5 runs north-south. Ms. Buck and Ms. Blair, the car's passenger, were traveling south. James Baker, driving a 2008 Ford bucket utility truck, testified that he drove across the northbound lane of Route 5 safely, and did not see Ms. Buck's vehicle until shortly before she collided with his truck. The collision occurred as Mr. Baker was driving the truck across the southbound lane.

         Plaintiffs submit that Mr. Baker had a clear view of the roadway before he entered the intersection, should have seen Ms. Buck's car approaching from a distance, and that his failure to yield was the proximate cause of the accident. In support of their claim, they cite photographs of the accident scene, a video simulation, and testimony from Defendant's expert. They also refer to the Court's jury instruction which, consistent with Vermont law, stated that a driver is deemed to be aware of objects in plain view and must use reasonable diligence.

         Defendants cite Mr. Baker's trial testimony, in which he explained that at the time he entered the intersection he did not see any cars on Route 5. Specifically, he testified that after coming to a stop before entering the intersection, he looked left, right, and left again, then proceeded into the intersection a bit further in order to get a better view. He again looked left, right, and left, before crossing the northbound portion of Route 5.

         Mr. Baker testified that as he was crossing the northbound lanes, he looked right again to see if any cars were approaching from the south. He testified that he did so “about the time” his truck reached the median that divided the north and southbound lanes. ECF No. 98-1 at 6. He did not stop at the median, but was “continually moving.” Id. He testified as follows on direct examination:

Q. Okay. And when you looked to the right -- well, first of all, when you looked before you started moving into the northbound lanes was there anything at all in that section of Route 5 headed south that was visible to you? Was there any car there whatsoever?
A. No.
Q. You're positive of that?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. So when you looked again to the right after you crossed the northbound lanes and just before you headed to the southbound lanes when you looked to your right again what did you see?
A. When I got to the intersection I did see a vehicle coming towards me.
Q. Okay. And where was the vehicle located when you first saw it?
A. I can't say exactly. I believe it was -- I don't know footage wise ...

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