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Akers v. Sanderson Farms, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

January 8, 2015

SHERRI AKERS, Plaintiff,
SANDERSON FARMS, INC., et al., Defendants.


R. DAVID PROCTOR, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on (1) Defendants' Partial Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 24). The Motion has been fully briefed. (Docs. # 27 and 31).

This case arises out of a traffic accident occurring while Defendant Paul Flowers was operating a commercial vehicle in connection with his employment with Defendant Sanderson Farms. The accident occurred when Flowers's vehicle struck a traffic control signal or "arrow board" in the left northbound lane of Interstate 59 causing the sign to strike Plaintiff Sherri Akers.

I. Relevant Undisputed Facts

Plaintiff was injured on November 14, 2012, while working with Alabama Guardrail. (Doc. # 10 at ¶ 4-5). At the time of the accident, Akers was part of a crew setting up to remove and replace portions of guardrail along the left northbound lane of I-59 outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Doc. # 10 at ¶ 4). The individual defendant, Paul Flowers, was operating a tractor trailer and traveling northbound on Interstate 59 in the course of his employment with Sanderson Farms. (Doc. # 27-17 at 154-155).

The collision occurred at approximately 12:17 AM on November 14, 2012. (Doc. # 27-4 at 446). Flowers had driven for Defendant Sanderson Farms for three consecutive nights leading up to the night of the collision. (Doc. # 27-17 at 123-128). Immediately before the accident, Flowers had driven for three straight hours without a break. (Doc. # 27-17 at 131, 132).

Flowers had been traveling in the right hand lane; however, he merged into the left hand lane to allow room for a truck and a car to enter the interstate. (Doc. # 27-17 at 145, 154). Flowers testified that, as he proceeded in the left lane and crested a hill, a bright light hit him in the face and he threw up his hand to shield his eyes from the light. (Doc. # 27-17 at 154-56, 158). Flowers's tractor trailer struck a traffic control signal or arrow board and the control signal/arrow board struck Plaintiff who was in the process of setting it up. (Doc. # 27-17 at 104-5; Doc. # 10 at & 4).

The crest of the hill is over one mile before the collision site, which is at the bottom of a long downhill grade. (Doc. # 27-6 at 4). There is a clear line of sight from the crest of the hill, along the mile to the collision site. (Doc. # 27-6 at 4).

At the time of the accident, Flowers was not on a cell phone, there was no evidence he was speeding, and he was not under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. (Doc. # 27-17 at 144, 154, 180, 184).

Flowers obtained his Commercial Driver's License in 1992, and his license has never been suspended or revoked. (Doc. # 27-17 at 48; Doc. # 24-2). Flowers drove a commercial vehicle for Schneider National from 1992 to 1996, and for Sanderson Farms from 1996 until 2012. (Doc. # 27-17 at 48; Doc. # 24-2). At the time Flowers was hired by Sanderson Farms, his Motor Vehicle Report revealed no prior accidents and only one prior citation where Flowers was cited for not having his log book. (Doc. # 27-17 at 53; Docs. # 24-2 and 24-3. During his employment with Sanderson Farms, which began in 1996, Flowers was not involved in any accidents other than the accident at issue in this case. (Doc. # 24-2). Moreover, during his driving career, he has received only one speeding citation - and that was over ten years ago. (Doc. # 24-2).

Flowers testified that, prior to the accident, he did not see any indication there was any danger or construction ahead. (Doc. # 27-17 at 104, 153). However, there is evidence in the Rule 56 record that there were multiple reflective orange road work signs and reflective cones posted on the interstate leading up to the construction site, and a light tower lighting the area where the workers were replacing the guardrail. (Doc. # 27-7 at 16-19, 24, 29; Doc. # 27-8 at 13-14, 25-28; Doc. # 27-5 at 29). There is also evidence that the arrow board was lit at the time of the accident. (Doc. # 27-8 at 14-16; Doc. # 27-8 at 25-28).

Flowers's employment with Sanderson Farms ended after the accident. (Doc. # 27-27 at 11-12). Within a month or two after the accident, Flowers applied for disability benefits. (Doc. # 27-17 at 29-33).

As part of the application process, Flowers indicated that he had suffered headaches for the last twenty years, although he had not sought treatment for them since 1991. (Doc. # 27-2 at 101). He reported that, when a headache is severe, he passes out, and that he has had three to five incapacitating headaches. (Doc. # 27-2 at 101). Flowers also has said that he suffers from sleep disturbances (where he may go two to three days without sleep and sleep in one hour increments) dating back prior to the accident, and has experienced persistent hallucinations. (Doc. # 27-3 at 205).

Flowers had been diagnosed with anxiety and reported related insomnia in January 2012 (Doc. # 27-25 at Bates No. 148-53). Nevertheless, he did not report any sleep or nervous disorders during his June 2012 or ...

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