United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
wrongful death and products liability case comes before the
court on Defendants Hyundai Motor Company and Hyundai Motor
America's “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
Regarding Set-Off.” (Doc. 89).
Culver died nearly a year after he suffered catastrophic
injuries as a passenger in a car that wrecked with a United
States Postal truck. Before he died, Mr. Culver filed a
lawsuit against the United States for his personal injuries
resulting from the accident. After Mr. Culver died, Plaintiff
Willie Earl Bonds, as administrator of Mr. Culver's
estate, brought this separate wrongful-death claim against
Hyundai. The Estate and the United States eventually settled
the claims for personal injuries for $2, 600, 000.
motion for partial summary judgment, Hyundai argues that the
court should set off any judgment entered against it in this
action by that amount recovered for personal injuries because
it and the United States are joint tortfeasors.
court finds that Hyundai and the United States acted together
as “joint tortfeasors” to cause a single set of
injuries-personal injuries that led to Mr. Culver's
death-such that they are jointly liable for the injuries
arising from the wreck. But here is the kicker: the
Estate's settlement with the United States for Mr.
Culver's personal injuries before he died did not and
could not include any amount as damages for Mr. Culver's
death; in this case, the Estate seeks recovery against
Hyundai only for-and only could recover-punitive
damages for Mr. Culver's death.
Alabama law, only punitive damages may be recovered for
wrongful death. See King v. National Spa and Pool
Institute, Inc., 607 So.2d 1241, 1248 (Ala. 1992). And
the Federal Tort Claims Act precludes the United
States from paying punitive damages. Because a recovery for
punitive damages does not diminish a recovery for
compensatory damages, no set-off is required to prevent a
double recovery by the Estate. The court will, therefore,
DENY Hyundai's motion for partial summary judgment. (Doc.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment plays an integral part in the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. A court may enter partial summary judgment to
address critical, but not dispositive, parts of a case.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The same standard that
applies to full motions for summary judgment applies to
motions for partial summary judgment.
when a district court reviews a motion for partial summary
judgment, it must determine two things: (1) whether any
genuine issues of material fact exist; and if not, (2)
whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law on the particular issues raised. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c);
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254
(1986); Cottle v. Storer Commc'n, Inc., 849 F.2d
570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). The parties have stipulated to a
set of facts for the purpose of this motion for partial
summary judgment. (Doc. 88). So, the question before the
court is simply whether Hyundai is entitled to a set-off as a
matter of law.
18, 2011, Joseph Gillette ran a red light while driving a
United States Postal truck and collided with a Hyundai
Accent. Mr. Culver, who occupied the Hyundai's backseat
at the time, suffered catastrophic injuries in the wreck. He
died from those injuries nearly a year later, on May 8, 2012.
alive, Mr. Culver sued the United States, alleging negligence
and negligent entrustment under Alabama law and the Federal
Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2672. After Mr.
Culver's passing, Alice Culver became administrator of
administrator, Ms. Culver added a wrongful death claim
against the United States, but, later, Ms. Culver voluntarily
dismissed the wrongful death claim without prejudice while
maintaining her late husband's claims for negligence and
negligent entrustment. On October 15, 2013, a probate judge
appointed Mr. Bonds to administer the Estate.
March 10, 2014, Ms. Culver (apparently still acting as
administrator of the Estate) entered into a pro
tanto settlement agreement with the United States for
her husband's personal injuries. In exchange for $2, 600,
000 in unspecified damages, the Estate agreed to release the
United States from all of the Estate's claims against it,
but reserved the Estate's claims against any ...