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Heine v. Pinkelman

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

May 12, 2016

EMERY HEINE, JR. and CHERYL HEINE, Plaintiffs,
v.
SHELBY R. PINKELMAN and BRIAN KRAMER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Lawrence L. Piersol United States District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Brian Kramer's (Kramer), a resident of Nebraska, motion for summary judgment. The motion is opposed only by Plaintiffs Emery Heine, Jr. and Cheryl Heine (Plaintiffs), who are residents of South Dakota. Defendant Shelby R. Pinkelman (Pinkelman), a resident of Wyoming, did not file a response to Kramer's motion. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs' lawsuit is a negligence claim against Kramer and Pinkelman. The facts giving rise to the action occurred on June 1, 2012 at the four-way intersection of Highway 57, Highway 84, and County Road 882. The intersection is south of Harington, Cedar County, Nebraska. Plaintiffs and Defendants were deposed, as well as Plaintiffs' two witnesses, Thomas J. Becker (Becker) and Karma J. Schulte (Schulte).

Highway 57 is a two-lane highway running north and south. Traffic travelling north or south on Highway 57 has the right-of-way at the intersection in issue. That is to say, traffic is not controlled by stop lights, stop signs, or otherwise.

Highway 84 is also a two-lane highway and runs west from the point at which it intersects with Highway 57. Thus, Highway 84 begins and ends at the intersection with Highway 57. Traffic travelling east on Highway 84 is controlled by a stop sign at the intersection with Highway 57.

County Road 882 is a gravel road that runs east from the point it intersects with Highway 57. Like Highway 84, County Road 882 begins and ends at its intersection with Highway 57. Westbound traffic on County Road 882 is controlled by a stop sign at the intersection with Highway 57.

Highway 84 and County Road 882 are offset from one another. Thus, a vehicle travelling west on County Road 882 would be forced to turn right and travel north on Highway 57 for a short period of time before being able to turn left and continue west on Highway 84. The opposite is true for traffic travelling east on Highway 84. The speed limit on all three roads is 40 miles per hour. It is undisputed that no obstructions impeded the vision of any of the drivers at the intersection. The intersection itself is positioned on a hill. The roads slope in a downward decline in all four directions from the point of the intersection.

At the time of the accident, Pinkelman was travelling west on County Road 882 and intended to continue west on Highway 84. Kramer, on the other hand, was travelling east on Highway 84 and intended to make a left-hand turn in order to travel north on Highway 57. Plaintiffs were travelling south on Highway 57, and Becker and Schulte were travelling north on Highway 57.

It is undisputed that Kramer had come to a stop on Highway 84 at the intersection with Highway 57. It is disputed, however, whether Pinkelman also stopped on County Road 882. Kramer and Pinkelman herself testified at deposition that Pinkelman did stop at the intersection with Highway 57. Becker and Schulte testified at deposition that Pinkelman did not stop. According to Kramer, as he came to a stop at the intersection, Pinkelman was already stopped opposite him on County Road 882. Noticing that Pinkelman had arrived at the intersection first, and, in addition, that she intended either to turn right and proceed north on Highway 57 or turn left and continue west on Highway 84, Kramer believed that Pinkelman had the right-of-way. As such, Kramer motioned Pinkelman by waving his hand, intending to yield to her the right-of-way. According to Kramer, he looked north and south before waving and saw no oncoming traffic. Pinkelman's testimony is largely consistent with Kramer's. In her deposition, Pinkelman stated that after seeing Kramer wave she briefly assessed traffic for herself and continued into the intersection. Shortly thereafter, she was struck by Plaintiffs' vehicle.

Becker and Schulte testified at their depositions that Becker was driving his vehicle north on Highway 57 with Schulte in the passenger seat. As they were travelling north on Highway 57, they observed Pinkelman approaching the intersection on County Road 882. As they approached the intersection, Schulte thought Pinkelman was going to collide with the passenger's side of Becker's vehicle. Schulte then exclaimed that Pinkelman was not going to stop and, as a result, Becker applied the brakes in order to avoid an accident. Becker and Schulte then observed Pinkelman travel into the intersection without stopping at the stop sign on County Road 882 and colliding with Plaintiffs as their vehicle was travelling south on Highway 57. According to an accident reconstructionist, Pinkelman had been travelling at 22 to 26 miles per hour at the time of the accident.

On March 23, 2015, Plaintiffs filed negligence claims against both Pinkelman and Kramer. In the complaint, it is alleged that Pinkelman was negligent when she failed to yield to Plaintiffs' at the intersection, which caused the accident. The complaint also alleges that Kramer was negligent by waving to Pinkelman in order to indicate that she could enter the intersection, which, as a result, caused Pinkelman to collide with Plaintiffs. Kramer and Pinkelman filed crossclaims against one another for indemnity and contribution on April 20, 2015 and May 5, 2015, respectively. Docs. 5, 8. In each of the crossclaims, both Defendants allege that the other was more at fault in causing the accident. In Defendants' respective answers to the crossclaims, Docs. 12, 13, both Kramer and Pinkelman allege that the other failed to state a claim and generally denied the allegations contained in the other's crossclaim. Neither Kramer nor Pinkelman formally moved to dismiss the other's crossclaim.

Kramer moved for summary judgment against Plaintiffs on February 15, 2016. Kramer argues summary judgment is properly granted in his favor as no dispute as to any genuine issue of material fact regarding the proximate cause element of Plaintiffs' negligence claim against Kramer exists. Specifically, Kramer argues that Plaintiffs have failed to show that Pinkelman relied on Kramer's wave to the extent necessary ...


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