Claims are subject to dismissal through summary judgment when a party can establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact with respect to the claims, and the claims cannot succeed as a matter of law. A summary judgment motion can seek the dismissal of a complaint in its entirety or be a partial summary judgment motion directed at some of the claims asserted in a complaint. In a recent case, plaintiffs filed suit against the driver of a tractor trailer and the freight line that owned the vehicle he was driving at the time of the collision with the plaintiffs’ vehicle.
The plaintiffs asserted claims of negligence, negligence per se, and negligent entrustment and sought an award of punitive damages. The defendants removed the case from the New Mexico state court in which the plaintiffs had filed their complaint to a New Mexico federal district court, and they filed a motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the plaintiffs’ second amended complaint. The defendants asserted that the record supported the dismissal of the negligent entrustment and punitive damages claims as a matter of law. The plaintiffs did not file a response in opposition. Still, the Court had to assess whether the defendants had met their initial responsibility of demonstrating a basis for partial summary judgment.
The Court studied the evidence that the defendants had submitted and their arguments. With respect to the negligent entrustment claim, the defendants had argued that the record did not support liability because the undisputed facts showed that the driver did not have a record of citations for traffic violations and had passed a drug test on the day of the accident. The record before the Court also showed that the driver had only been in one accident previously, in which a vehicle had backed into the truck he was driving, had conducted a pre-trip inspection of the tractor trailer, was not using his cell phone at the time of the accident, was driving with low beams, was not exceeding the speed limit, and had tried to avoid the plaintiffs’ vehicle before the collision occurred that had given rise to their alleged damages. With this record before it, the Court accepted the defendants’ contention that there was no evidence presented that the owner of the truck knew or should have known that the driver would operate it in a manner that would create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. As a result, and without evidence to counter by the plaintiffs, the Court was amenable to granting the defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the negligent entrustment claim.