Most personal injury cases never go all the way through trial and to a jury verdict. Instead, they are often settled or resolved by courts through preliminary motions to dismiss or for summary judgment. A case will generally be dismissed when the court lacks jurisdiction to hear it, when the complaint lacks some basic elements, or when it doesn’t spell out sufficient factual allegations about what happened. A court will grant summary judgment, on the other hand, when one party shows that there are no factual disputes and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. As a recent Supreme Court decision shows, that’s a difficult burden to bear in car accident cases if the dispute revolves around different accounts of the same crash.
Ms. Crigler was working as a volunteer firefighter with the South Fork Volunteer Fire Department when she was involved in an accident with Mr. Bailey on Route 33. She claimed that she was responding to an emergency dispatch, which she received shortly after 1:51 pm while shopping at a local grocery store, when the crash occurred. Crigler later testified that she was driving her own car and realized that it wouldn’t be able to climb Shenandoah Mountain, where the fire was blazing. She turned around near a lake as a result and collided with Bailey’s car after crossing the median while driving away from the mountain.
Crigler argued that she should be protected from liability under West Virginia Code § 29-12A-5(b), which provides that government employees aren’t liable for claims that arise while the person is acting within the scope of his or her employment. Bailey responded by offering the testimony of Crigler’s ex-husband, who was also a volunteer firefighter. He said he was with Crigler at the lake immediately before he also received the emergency dispatch. He said he hadn’t reached the grocery store when the dispatch came in. and therefore it would have been impossible for Crigler to have gone to the grocery store and then driven toward the fire and turned around in the time before the accident happened.
A trial court denied Crigler’s motion for summary judgment, finding that questions remained about whether she was actually acting within the scope of her employment when the crash happened. The state Supreme Court agreed on appeal.
“There is a disagreement about whether petitioner was responding to an emergency dispatch at the time of the accident, and it is therefore not clear whether she was acting in the scope of employment when she collided with Bailey’s automobile,” the Court said. The Court said it wasn’t necessary to consider whether Crigler would have still been within the scope of her employment if she were traveling away from the fire at the time of the crash. Instead, it noted that Mr. Crigler’s testimony seemed to indicate that she wasn’t en route to or from the fire when the accident happened. The Court also rejected the argument that Mr. Crigler’s testimony should be disregarded outright because he was a “disgruntled ex-husband.”
As a result, the court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia car accident lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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