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Cruz v. Talmadge

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 23, 2017

Megan Cruz, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Raymond Talmadge, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         This case arises out of an accident that occurred when a motor coach approximately 12 feet in height tried to drive under a bridge that had a clearance of only ten feet or so. Plaintiff Matthew Cruz and ten others seriously injured in the crash (collectively, “plaintiffs”) assert various state law tort claims against the manufacturer, owner and operator of the bus, a GPS provider and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Conversation and Recreation, the entity in charge of the relevant road signage.

         Pending before the Court is 1) the motion of Prevost and Prevost Car (the manufacturer of the bus) for judgment on the pleadings with respect to Counts III, IV and V of plaintiffs' first amended complaint alleging breach of implied warranty of merchantability, negligence and strict liability, 2) the motion of plaintiffs for leave to file a second amended complaint, 3) the motion of plaintiffs' for reconsideration of this Court's Order dated June 14, 2016 denying their motion to remand the action to state court and 4) the motion of defendants Samuel J. Jackson and Raymond Talmadge (the owner and operator of the bus) for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion for reconsideration will be allowed and, upon reconsideration, the motion to remand will be allowed. The Court declines to decide the remaining motions.

         I. Background

         A. The Bus Crash

         Plaintiffs are residents of Pennsylvania. On February 2, 2013, plaintiffs boarded a 1996 model Prevost motor coach (“bus”) in Bristol, Pennsylvania, for a day trip to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The bus was owned by defendant Raymond Talmadge d/b/a Calvary Coach (“Talmadge”) and was operated by defendant Samuel J. Jackson (“Jackson”). Both Talmadge and Jackson are citizens of Pennsylvania.

         After the visit to Harvard University concluded, plaintiffs boarded the Prevost bus for their return trip home. Jackson followed the directions dictated by his Garmin GPS and turned eastbound onto Soldiers Field Road in Boston, Massachusetts.

         Soldiers Field Road has a ten-foot height restriction because of low overpasses but the Prevost bus was well over ten- feet tall. Although there were multiple warning signs of the height restriction on Soldiers Field Road, Jackson either failed to notice them, or noticed them too late, and the bus slammed into the overpass at the Western Avenue Bridge.

         As a result of the crash, plaintiff Matthew Cruz (“Cruz”) sustained severe head, neck and back injuries which left him paralyzed from the waist down. The other plaintiffs in this case also sustained severe head and neck injuries.

         B. Litigation in Pennsylvania and the Release Agreements

         In February, 2013, Matthew Cruz brought suit against Talmadge and Jackson (the owner and operator, respectively) in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, asserting negligence claims. His lawsuit was consolidated with other cases initiated by several of the 35 passengers on the motor coach.

         That Court entered an order appointing a special master to conduct mediation. The parties reached a settlement and agreed to divide approximately $4.6 million of the $5 million of liability coverage tendered by Occidental Fire & Casualty Company, the insurer of Talmadge and Jackson. Cruz received $3.75 million of that amount, the most of any of the plaintiffs.

         Pursuant to the settlement, the plaintiffs in that matter signed three different release agreements:

         1. The Pro Tanto Joint Tortfeasor Release

         All of the plaintiffs in this action, except Cruz, signed a release titled “Pro Tanto Joint Tortfeasor Release”. The first paragraph states:

I, [Claimant], . . . release discharge and acquit SAMUEL J. JACKSON, RAYMOND TALMADGE D/B/A CALVARY COACH, OCCIDENTAL FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY OF NORTH CAROLINA, INC. and their agents, employees, insurers or third-party administrators, only, of and from any and all claims, rights, demands and damages arising out of or in any way connected with any and all known and unknown, foreseen and unforeseen, bodily and personal injuries, and the consequences thereof or any other loss or damage sustained by Claimant which arise out of the bus accident which occurred on February 2, 2013 on Soldier's Field Road in Boston, Massachusetts and which is the subject of litigation ...

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