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State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Wallace

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

February 3, 2014

STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHAN ALAN WALLACE and CRAIG HUNTER CALDWELL, Defendants

Page 440

For State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, Plaintiff: Alexander Spotswood de Witt, LEAD ATTORNEY, BRENNER EVANS & MILLMAN PC, RICHMOND, VA.

For Jonathan Alan Wallace, Defendant: Michael Anthony Nicholas, LEAD ATTORNEY, Daniel Medley & Kirby P.C., Danville, VA.

For Craig Hunter Caldwell, Defendant: Thomas L. Phillips, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, PHILLIPS MORRISON JOHNSON & FERRELL, RUSTBURG, VA.

OPINION

Page 441

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Hon. Jackson L. Kiser, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

On December 11, 2013, Defendant Craig Hunter Caldwell filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in this action. (See Caldwell Mot. for Summ. J., Dec. 11, 2013 [ECF No. 22].) Shortly thereafter, Defendant Jonathan Alan Wallace filed a similar motion, and Plaintiff State Farm Fire and Casualty Company filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (See Wallace Mot. for Summ. J., Dec. 16, 2013 [ECF No. 24]; Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Dec. 16, 2013 [ECF No. 26].) The parties thoroughly briefed the issues and appeared for oral argument on January 24, 2014. After reviewing the Record and the arguments of the parties, the matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, I will deny the defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment and grant Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 3, 2010, Defendant Jonathan Alan Wallace (" Wallace" ), Defendant Craig Hunter Caldwell (" Caldwell" ), and non-party William " Billy" Snodgrass (" Snodgrass" ) were riding dirt bikes and shooting paintball guns on Snodgrass's property in Red House, Virginia. (Def. Wallace Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. pg. 2 [ECF No. 25] [hereinafter " Wallace Br." ]; Pl.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. pg. 2 [ECF No. 27] [hereinafter " Pl.'s Br." ].) Wallace was 25 years old at the time, and Caldwell, Snodgrass's cousin, was 17. (Pl.'s Br. pg. 1, 3 n.1.) While shooting paintballs at each other, Defendants admit that they only aimed at one another's lower extremities. (Caldwell Dep: 11:22-25, Oct. 16, 2013.) Between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m., Caldwell was driving his mother's Suzuki Sidekick up the driveway while Wallace was in the process of emptying his paintball gun by firing the remaining paintballs in the direction of some nearby trees. (Wallace Br. pg. 2; Pl.'s Br. pg. 3-4.) At that time, " two of [the paintballs] hit the vehicle . . . like on the back tire and the back lower fender or bumper area" and " what made [Wallace] stop was [they] heard [Caldwell] screaming and hollering in the vehicle." (Wallace Dep. 9:19-23, Oct. 8, 2013.) According to Caldwell, the driver's window of the vehicle was down, and " when the shots hit the truck . . . the third [paintball] come [sic] through the window [of the vehicle] and hit [Caldwell] in the eye." (Caldwell Dep. 14:10-12.) Caldwell described the immediate aftermath as follows:

I'm not going to cuss or anything, but I did say a lot of foul words because of the pain. I remember it hitting me in the eye, and I was--honestly, I was trying to act like I was tough and not let them see that it hurt as bad as it did. It hurt fairly bad, and I had actually bent my steering wheel in my truck a little from pushing on the steering wheel just trying to take my mind off the pain. And my cousin Billy [Snodgrass] was riding his little dirt bike right there on the ditch and he come over. And by the time he had come over, I had both hands . . . over my eye.

(Caldwell Dep. 18:21-19:6.) There was no blood, but Caldwell's eye was watering. (Id. 19:7-9.) Wallace testified that, although he did not know how a paintball went into the car, " you could obviously tell . . . something had happened to [his eye] by--we kind of naturally assumed it was a

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paintball because I was shooting a paintball in that direction, you know, at the tree." (Wallace Dep. 10:1-9.)

According to Snodgrass, he was riding his dirt bike when the incident happened. He noticed Caldwell " was stopped in the middle of the road for some reason," and, when Snodgrass pulled up to the Suzuki Sidekick, he noticed that Caldwell " was over there crying." (Snodgrass Dep. 11:13-17, Nov. 14, 2013.) Snodgrass testified that Caldwell " was definitely crying. I mean, he was screaming, crying. You could tell he was--you know, he was obviously hurt, I mean." (Id. 41:21-24.) Snodgrass asked Caldwell numerous times if he was alright and offered to take him to the hospital; Snodgrass testified that Caldwell " swore that he was okay." (Id. 12:16-19.) Snodgrass's girlfriend, Amanda, retrieved " something frozen . . . frozen vegetables or something," for Caldwell to put on his eye. (Wallace Dep. 10: 1-3.) Caldwell recalls that he " couldn't really open" his eye and that, after he applied an ice pack to the injury, his vision " was kind of blurry and it was really hard to see through [his eye]." (Caldwell Dep. 19:16-18.) Caldwell testified that he sat in the Suzuki Sidekick for " about a half hour . . . [b]ecause at that point [he] was in so much pain [he] didn't really want to try to stand, because [he] didn't know if it might cause blood to flow worse or something or it could damage something more." (Caldwell Dep. 19:24-20:3.) Wallace testified that they ended up " being there another half-hour to forty-five minutes." (Wallace Dep. 10:13-14.) According to Snodgrass, after he approached the car:

[Caldwell] probably sat there for a couple of minutes. And we were trying to calm him down, and then we got him to pull over into the driveway, and he started to relax a lot and actually talking to us. And, you know, then he swore he was fine and didn't need to go anywhere. And, you know, we kept telling him, you know, you might need to go to the hospital or something, you know, you're really hurt; and he kept swearing he was fine.

(Snodgrass Dep. 14:3-11.) Caldwell was in such pain that he could not physically maneuver the car he was in to be parked, so Snodgrass reached through the window and steered the car while Caldwell held his eye and slowly let his foot off the brake. (Snodgrass Dep. 14:3-7; Caldwell Dep. 20:22-21:4.) Despite the fact that Caldwell was " going ballistic" after he was first hit, Snodgrass testified that, after the incident, Caldwell " started saying it wasn't even hurting him no more." (Snodgrass Dep. 42:6, 12-14.)

Caldwell recalls that Wallace " didn't really say much at first other than checking to make sure I was okay and talking to me a little bit here and there. I think, honestly, I think he was more worried about what had actually happened at that moment, because I think he was sort of in a state of shock like he didn't realize what actually happened." (Caldwell Dep. 23:11-17.) After the incident, and after Caldwell exited the vehicle, Caldwell spoke with Wallace. Wallace apologized and said " something about giving [Caldwell] a set of mud tires for [his] truck." (Id. 24:23-24.) Caldwell testified that he thought Wallace " was basically trying to bribe [him] from telling anybody what had actually happened." (Id. 25:4-6.)

Nevertheless, after resting and applying a bag of frozen peas to his eye, the pain began to subside and Caldwell did not seek medical attention " [b]ecause at that point [they] didn't really think it was that bad." (Id. 26:3-4.) According to Caldwell, they " had no idea actually how much damage was done until after [he] went to the doctor . . . ." (Id. 26:4-6.) In fact, after removing the frozen peas from his eye, Caldwell rode Snodgrass's dirt bike around the yard for " [m]aybe ten or fifteen minutes." (Id. 27:12.)

Page 443

Caldwell testified that he " started to get a headache and [his] eye started to throb," so he stopped. (Id. 27:17-18.) After that, Caldwell told the others that he was " going to take some Ibuprofen and lay down for a little while and see if it helps." (Id. 27:20-23.) When he arrived home, Caldwell's told his sister, Tabitha, what happened. After assessing the injury to his eye, Tabitha did not believe his injury was serious. (Id. 28:20-29:2.) Once Caldwell left the farm, Wallace did not see him again until the depositions in the present case. (Wallace Br. pg. 2; Caldwell Dep. 33:24-34:15.) Caldwell's mother, Marjorie Mayberry, forbade Caldwell from speaking to Wallace. (Mayberry Dep. 30:25-31:3, Oct. 8, 2013.)

Later in the day on May 3, Snodgrass found out " from other family members and stuff" that Caldwell was doing worse. (Snodgrass Dep. 15:1-4.) Wallace also attempted to learn information about the extent of Caldwell's injuries, periodically calling Snodgrass on the evening of May 3 and several times the next day. (Wallace Dep. 16:3-9.)

Later in the evening on May 3, after the pain failed to subside, Caldwell was transported by ambulance to the Lynchburg General Hospital. (See Caldwell Dep. 29:14-30:9.) According to Mayberry, who met her son at the hospital, the treating doctor informed her that her son's injury was " severe" and that " there was some significant damage to the retina of his eye." (Mayberry Dep. 11:6-11.) Caldwell was treated by Dr. Moss and, at either his initial hospital visit or a follow-up appointment, Dr. Moss diagnosed Caldwell with a detached retina. (See Caldwell Dep. 30:13-19.)

During the course of Caldwell's treatment, Wallace was generally kept in the dark regarding Caldwell's condition and treatment. Because of Mayberry's admonition that Caldwell not speak to Wallace, Snodgrass was Wallace's only source of information. The day after the incident, Snodgrass said " something [to Wallace] about [Caldwell] going to a doctor." (Wallace Dep. 18:7.) Wallace admits that he " didn't really get any information out of Billy [Snodgrass] about it." (Id. 18:10-11.) Snodgrass likewise confirmed that he told Wallace that Caldwell was taken to the hospital, " but that's all [Snodgrass] really knew about it." (Snodgrass Dep. 18:14-15.) On May 4, Wallace learned that Caldwell had been taken to the hospital. (Wallace Dep. 17:11-20.)

Shortly after the incident, Caldwell's mother contacted the Charlotte County Sheriff's Department about pressing charges against Wallace. Mayberry surmised her son's injuries were severe and that the resulting medical bills would be more than she could handle. (Mayberry Dep. 13:1-8.) She also felt that " it needed to be known that [her] son was harmed in this way." (Id. 13:6-8.) Captain Howard Hobgood investigated the incident and, in doing so, spoke with Wallace and informed him that Caldwell had to seek medical treatment and that he had a detached retina. (Hobgood Dep. 19:24-20:13, Oct. 16, 2013.) Although Hobgood does not recall the exact conversation, he did testify that he would tell anyone the extent of the injuries: " You know, I would say, look, this could be right serious, or this is serious, he may have a detached retina, cornea, whatever it was." (Id. 20:10-13.) Wallace admits that he learned that Caldwell was undergoing " ongoing" medical treatment during a phone conversation with Hobgood in either May or June of 2010. (Wallace Dep. 20:2-12, 20:25-21:2; Hobgood Dep. 18:18-20:13.) After speaking with Hobgood and learning that criminal charges were a possibility, Wallace finally told his father about the incident. (Wallace Dep. 21:17-22:6.)

Page 444

Ultimately, Wallace was charged with a violation of Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-154, maliciously shooting into an occupied vehicle, a felony charge, in Virginia state court. (See Wallace Dep. 22:12-19.) Wallace was served with the official charging documents on June 16, 2010. (Wallace Dep. 24:5-12.) Wallace voluntarily surrendered to the local magistrate and was released on a $1,000.00 bond. (Id. 28:18-20.)

After he was formally charged, Wallace recounted the incident in greater detail to his father. (Id. 29:29:1-8.) Wallace testified that he told his father that " the officer that called [him] had said [Caldwell] had been to a doctor's office." (Id. 31:16-17.) Wallace testified that he did not tell his father that Caldwell's treatment was ongoing because Captain Hobgood did not relay that information to him (id. 31:18-22), although he also ...


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