The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Ronald S.W. Lew Senior, U.S. District Court Judge
RULING AND ORDER RE COURT TRIAL
On August 23, 2010, Plaintiff David Lee Weaver ("Plaintiff") filed a
Complaint against Defendants United States Department of Agriculture
("USDA"); Forest Service; and Michael James Ryan ("Ryan")*fn1
in this Court, alleging a claim for negligence , and was
allowed to proceed in forma pauperis . Plaintiff filed an amended
complaint on April 1, 2011 .
On March 19, 2013, the Court commenced a court trial and heard arguments from the Parties. Having received, reviewed, and considered the evidence presented, as well as the Parties' arguments at trial, the Court makes the following ruling:
1. On May 4, 2009, at approximately 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon, Plaintiff, driving a black BMW 318is, and Ryan, driving a Ford Expedition owned by the USDA and Forest Service, collided on Highway 99 in Kern County, California.
2. The accident site, Highway 99, is a three-lane highway. The speed limit was 70 miles per hour.
3. Plaintiff is an individual residing in Tipton, California. At the time of the collision, Ryan was an employee of the USDA and Forest Service, serving in the capacity of district fire management officer. At all relevant times, Ryan acted within the scope of his employment with the USDA and Forest Service. Ryan drove the Ford Expedition at issue in the course of his employment.
4. Just before the accident, Plaintiff was driving north on California Highway 99. Plaintiff occupied the far right lane ("the number three lane"), which is the slow lane. His vehicle was traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour. As he testified at trial, Plaintiff had an unobstructed view of the highway.
5. At the time, Ryan was also driving northbound on Highway 99. Ryan's vehicle was traveling at approximately 65 to 70 miles per hour in the far left lane ("the number one lane").
6. Ryan then observed an accident on the shoulder of Highway 99, and saw a body lying alongside a parked vehicle. Ryan determined that he would render assistance. As testified by defense witness Monte Peckinpah ("Peckinpah"), traffic was beginning to slow down due to the accident.
7. Ryan proceeded to change lanes. He deployed his vehicle turn signal, looked over his shoulder and checked his mirrors, and moved into the middle lane ("the number two lane"). He repeated these steps to move into the number three lane. He reduced the speed of his vehicle each time he changed lanes. Ryan believed that he could safely change lanes as the number two and three lanes were "clear" prior to his changing lanes. Ryan's Ford Expedition was equipped with red emergency lights and was striped, but the emergency lights were not deployed.
8. Immediately upon Ryan's movement into the number three lane, Plaintiff and Ryan's vehicles collided, with Plaintiff striking the rear of Ryan's Ford Expedition.
9. Plaintiff had not seen Ryan's vehicle prior to the collision. Plaintiff did not see any vehicles immediately ahead of his vehicle or immediately to his left. The only time that Plaintiff saw Ryan's vehicle was when the vehicles had already collided and when Ryan's vehicle was directly "on top" of his hood.
10. Ryan did not see Plaintiff's vehicle prior to moving into the number three lane.
11. As indicated, the accident occurred in the early evening, late afternoon, some time around four or five o'clock when there was still daylight. The weather conditions were clear and sunny, and the road was dry.
12. A California Highway Patrol ("CHP") Officer responded to the accident. Plaintiff's vehicle was towed from the accident scene.
13. As testified by Plaintiff at trial, after the accident, Plaintiff emerged from his vehicle without any cuts or bleeding. However, he experienced some neck discomfort and disorientation. An ambulance arrived and Plaintiff was taken to a hospital.
14. Plaintiff's vehicle sustained substantial front-end damage, and the vehicle's windshield was cracked.*fn2
15. Ryan's vehicle also sustained damage. The rear bumper of his vehicle was smashed in the lower right quarter panel. The tail pipe was pushed against the right rear wheel.
16. Plaintiff purchased his car for $100, approximately two weeks before his accident, on April 29, 2009.
B. Plaintiff's Medical Treatment and History
17. Although Plaintiff was taken to a hospital after the accident, Plaintiff did not present any record of any treatment that he received at the hospital or any invoices he might have received from the hospital or ambulance. After the accident, Plaintiff did not obtain any further medical treatment.
18. Plaintiff had a history of neck pain. As testified at trial, prior to the accident, Plaintiff had been treated for his neck pain for about a year. On the morning of the accident, he had taken an MRI of his neck at the Tulare District Hospital.
19. On or about July 11, 2012, Plaintiff underwent an independent medical examination by Dr. Harvey L. Edmonds, M.D., the United States' medical expert and a board certified neurologist. At the evaluation, Plaintiff complained of headaches, pain in his neck that radiated along the inner surface of his left forearm, numbness and tingling in his hands, weakness in his left arm, and tremor in his left hand. Plaintiff also told Dr. Edmonds that he frequently dropped things that he held in his left hand. Plaintiff also complained that he had difficulty writing.
20. Dr. Edmonds underwent a neurological examination of Plaintiff, which included evaluating Plaintiff's mental status, examining his cranial nerves, and performing a motor evaluation to test Plaintiff's reflexes and coordination. Dr. Edmonds also examined Plaintiff's spine and extremities. Dr. Edmonds concluded that some of Plaintiff's neck pain could be residual pain caused by a certain type of whiplash injury that could have been sustained during Plaintiff's car accident. He further concluded that Plaintiff had a pre-existing neck condition that may have been aggravated temporarily by the accident, but that his condition probably returned close to where it was before the accident.
21. In his review of Plaintiff's medical records following the accident, Dr. Edmonds did not find any limitation in Plaintiff's cervical range of motion. Further, in Dr. Edmonds' opinion, Plaintiff did not sustain any injury from the accident that would require future surgery. Dr. Edmonds did not find that Plaintiff suffered a neck fracture or any permanent sensory, reflex, or motor loss. He found that Plaintiff's complained of ...