United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MICHAEL GRIEGO, Personal Representative of The Wrongful Death Estate of ALEC J. JARAMILLO, Deceased, ANDREW JARAMILLO and TERESA ROMO, Plaintiffs,
LABERTA M. DOUGLAS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Russell E. Douglas, and STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS'
MATTER came on for trial in Albuquerque on May 13, 2019
through May 22, 2019, before a jury and the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge presiding by consent of the
parties. The issues were duly tried, and the jury rendered
its unanimous verdict on May 22, 2019, finding against
Plaintiffs and in favor of Defendant Laberta M. Douglas, as
Personal Representative of the Estate of Russell E. Douglas.
The Court entered a final judgment consistent with the
jury's verdict on May 22, 2019. Doc. 223.
have now filed a “Renewed Motion for Judgment as a
Matter of Law Pursuant to Rule 50(b) or Alternatively, Motion
for a New Trial Pursuant to Rule 59(a).” Doc. 226.
Plaintiffs cite to evidence received at trial that supports
their position that Russell E. Douglas
(“Douglas”) negligently “put his life and
the life of every motorist and/or pedestrian, potentially in
his path, in his own hands” by: failing to seek from
Dr. Menning a Vision Report and provide it to the Motor
Vehicle Department (“MVD”); failing to report
losses of consciousness to MVD; continuing to drive when he
knew or should have known his ability to drive had become
substantially impaired; and driving without supplemental
oxygen. Id. Yet these arguments ignore evidence to
the contrary that was given to the jury for its consideration
and which adequately supports its conclusion that Mr. Douglas
was not negligent.
to Plaintiffs' arguments that vision deficits made Mr.
Douglas an unsafe driver is his optometrist's testimony
that Mr. Douglas's vision was good enough to drive and
that he filled out MVD paperwork. Simply because that
paperwork cannot be located after 6 years does not
necessitate an inference that it was not submitted. Moreover,
testimony was received that Mr. Douglas would have been given
a vision test at the MVD field office when he renewed his
license just one month prior to the accident. And, his widow
testified that Mr. Douglas was able to call play-by-play at
amateur softball games without binoculars even after the
rely on a single document from a May 13, 2014 visit at
Langford Sports and Physical therapy that Mr. Douglas needed
supplemental oxygen at all times to avoid impairment from
hypoxia. Yet other evidence disputed that contention - Mr.
Douglas' widow testified that he did not need
supplemental oxygen 24/7 and instead primarily used it at
night while sleeping. She further testified that he was
strong and loved singing in the choir and dancing without the
aid of oxygen until shortly before his death. Moreover, the
jurors witnessed Mr. Douglas' videotaped deposition which
he gave without the benefit of oxygen so that they could make
their own observations as to any impairment.
Plaintiffs concede that Defendant's human factors expert
Cynthia Rando “testif[ied] the aforementioned factors
were not contributing factors to the subject collision. . .
.” Doc. 26 at 7. Indeed, Ms. Rando actually went
farther and testified that Mr. Douglas did everything right
on the day in question:
Q. Last question. Mr. Sutten asked you a No. of times if you
found any fault on the part of Russell Douglas, and it was
your testimony that you did not. Can you explain why you say
A. So the reason I came to that conclusion after a thorough
analysis of the facts at hand is that when we look at the
situation, what we need to ask of every driver is: "Did
you act in all the reasonable behaviors we could expect you
to, with the information you had and were able to perceive,
based off of the rules of the road and also the driving
situation at hand?" And so when we look at the situation
from Mr. Douglas' point of view, he approached the
turning bay. He turned into the turning bay. He stopped. He
assessed the driving scene. He reported all of this. He
accurately recognized that Mr. Jaramillo's truck was
traveling at 30, 35 mile rate of speed. He also visually
scanned and said that he could not see any other cars in that
field of view.
So the normal judgment for any reasonable driver is that:
Okay, this truck must be the fastest driving truck. I have
nine seconds of clearance, or thereabouts. I have enough time
to safely make my turn. And based off of Mr. Douglas'
testimony or deposition comments, he verbally stated all of
those steps. And no human is trained to do that. That's
something you do subconsciously while you're driving. But
the fact that he was able to report those were the steps that
he takes is further evidence that he did what he should have
done or should have been expected to do as a safe driver.
of Rando Testimony, Doc. 236 at 59:9-60:14. In their motion,
Plaintiffs now contend that “Ms. Rando does not have
the education, training or experience to opine regarding how
Douglas's visual, physical condition and mentation issues
affected him when operating a motor vehicle and/or at the
time of the subject collision.” Doc. 226 at 7. As
Defendants note, however, “Plaintiffs neither
challenged Ms. Rando's qualifications nor objected to her
testimony at trial.” Doc. 229 at 7. The Court
therefore finds that the jury had a legally sufficient
evidentiary basis to reasonably find for Defendants on the
issue of negligence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b)(1).
Plaintiffs move for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which provides that a court
may grant a new trial “after a jury trial, for any
reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in
an action at law in federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
59(a)(1)(A). Plaintiffs rely on Danz v. Kennon, 63
N.M. 274 (1957) which indeed has a similar fact pattern. In
the Danz case, the eastbound defendant was stopped
at an intersection in the left turn lane waiting for the
light to turn green. When it changed, a westbound pickup
truck was also stopped in its inside lane waiting to make a
left turn. Unfortunately, the pickup truck on obscured
plaintiff's westbound vehicle that was passing the
stopped pickup on its right. In Danz, the New Mexico
supreme court held that the defendant “was legally
bound to look and see westbound traffic so near the
intersection and yield the right-of-way. She admittedly
failed to do so, and a violation of these statutory standards
of conduct was negligence per se.” Id. at
fact pattern here is materially distinguishable from that in
Danz in an important way, however. Unlike the
stopped pickup in Danz, the potentially obstructing
truck with its full trailer was clearly traveling at or near
the posted speed limit. As Ms. Rando testified, when a driver
sees only one vehicle and no others, it is ”normal
judgment for any reasonable driver” to believe
“this truck must be the fastest driving” vehicle.
Transcript of Rando Testimony, Doc. 236 at 60:1-5.
At trial, Mr. Sutten's asked Ms. Rando, “To the
extent you analyzed Russell Douglas' actions, isn't
it true that you found no significant fault on his
part?” to which Ms. Rando responded affirmatively.
Thus, contrary to Plaintiffs' position and as the jury
was instructed, “[t]he mere happening of an accident is
not evidence that any person was negligent.”
Court's Instruction No. 26.
remainder of the Plaintiffs' Reply Brief is peppered with
arguments notably absent in their Motion, all of which are
unpersuasive. Testimony that Witness Anthony Sessions had
previous law enforcement experience did not unfairly
“bolster” his testimony but instead was relevant
to his ability to accurately perceive and estimate speeds of
vehicles. Although Murrae Haynes' testimony made stray
references to helmets, as I noted at that time, there was no
indication or inference that Mr. Jaramillo was not wearing a
helmet at the time of the accident. The Court is simply
unpersuaded that its evidentiary rulings were contrary to law
nor that if in error, the rulings caused significant
prejudice to Plaintiffs or would have changed the jury's
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Renewed Motion for
Judgment as a Matter of Law Pursuant to Rule 50(b) or
Alternatively, Motion for a New ...