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Debuf v. Hill

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

September 11, 2019

RUSSELL DEBUF, individually and as court appointed conservator of MONTE DEBUF, Plaintiff,
v.
TAURUS J. HILL, and PACIFIC WEST CONSTRUCTION, INC.. Defendants. TAURUS J. HILL, and PACIFIC WEST CONSTRUCTION, INC., Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
NATHAN RYAN DEBUF, Third-Party Defendant.

          ORDER

          Timothy J. Cavan United States Magistrate Judge

         Russell Debuf, individually and as court-appointed conservator of Monte Debuf, brings this action against Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs Taurus J. Hill and Pacific West Construction, Inc., in relation to a motor vehicle accident that occurred near mile marker 345 on Interstate Highway 90 east of Livingston, Montana.

         Presently before the Court are Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 29); and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 34). The motions are fully briefed and ripe for the Court's review.

         Having considered the parties' submissions, the Court finds Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment should be GRANTED, and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment should be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         On September 21, 2014, Nathan Debuf (“Nathan”) and Monte Debuf (“Monte”) were traveling on Interstate 90 near Livingston, Montana, when Nathan struck a trailer being pulled by Taurus J. Hill (“Hill”), while in the scope of his employment with Pacific West Construction, Inc. (“Pacific West”) (collectively “Defendants”). Monte suffered severe injuries as a result of the accident. Monte's father, Russell Debuf (“Russell”), individually and as Monte's court-appointed conservator, brought this action against Hill and Pacific West. Plaintiff asserts claims for negligence and loss of consortium. Thereafter, Hill and Pacific West filed a Third-Party Complaint, asserting claims for negligence against Nathan. They have also asserted affirmative defenses of comparative negligence and apportionment of liability as to Monte.

         On the weekend of the accident, Nathan had traveled from Billings to Bozeman to help his brother build a deck. Afterward, on September 21, 2015, he traveled to Butte to pick up Monte so they could drive back to Billings together. While he was in Butte, Nathan stopped at a convenience store and picked up a six-pack of beer. Monte was not with Nathan at the time he purchased the beer.

         Nathan and Monte left Butte at approximately 7:00 - 7:30 p.m., with Nathan driving. Nathan set the cruise control on his Honda Civic to 75 miles per hour. Nathan recalls drinking two beers from the six pack while driving. He had also taken 5 milligrams of prescription oxycodone the day prior. Nathan recalls Monte may have had three beers in the car while Nathan was driving. But neither Nathan nor Monte remember anything about the events immediately preceding the accident.

         On the date of the accident, Hill was traveling in a 1985 Dodge truck with a flatbed trailer from Idaho Falls to Billings with a co-worker. The trailer was owned by Pacific West. Hill encountered problems with his truck during the drive, and had to stop twice for repairs due to electrical and oil issues. At some point prior to 9:30 p.m., Hill pulled off I-90 onto the shoulder near mile marker 345 in Park County to check his oil. It was dark outside, and there was no lighting on the roadway.

         After Hill finished putting oil in his truck, he began merging onto I-90 east, toward Billings. Hill testified that he saw one set of headlights approximately one mile to a mile-and-a-half behind him as he began to merge back onto the highway. The parties dispute whether Hill's taillights on the truck and trailer were working or were visible to traffic at the time.

         At approximately 9:30 p.m., after the truck and trailer had crossed over the shoulder line, Nathan's vehicle struck Hill's trailer from behind. At the time of impact, Hill was travelling 30-35 miles per hour. Nathan's speed at the time of the accident could not be determined. As a result of the accident, Monte suffered a severe brain injury and is permanently disabled.

         According to a toxicology report, Nathan's blood alcohol level was .085 at the time his blood was drawn approximately 2.5 hours after the accident. He also had trace amounts of oxycodone in his system. Monte's blood alcohol level was less than .013% approximately 2.5 hours after the crash.

         Nathan was cited for driving while his license was suspended and for DUI. Hill was charged with a violation of Mont. Code Ann. § 61-8-828(1), for changing lanes when it was unsafe to do so.

         At the time of the accident, Monte's father, Russell, lived in Billings; Monte did not live in Billings. But Monte would visit Russell from time to time. Russell testified that it was hard to pin Monte down to a specific time he would visit, as he “left when he wanted to leave. Came when he wanted to [] come.” Russell estimated that he spoke with Monte on the telephone approximately ...


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