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Higgins v. Koch Development Corporation

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Evansville Division

February 5, 2014

KENT HIGGINS and JENNIFER HIGGINS, Individually and as Parents and Natural Guardians, and Next Friend on behalf of AH and NH, Minors, and JOHN TAYLOR and SARAH TAYLOR, Individually and as Parents and Natural Guardians, and Next Friend on behalf of JT, a Minor, and RACHEL TAYLOR, Plaintiffs,
KOCH DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, d/b/a Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, Defendant.


RICHARD L. YOUNG, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiffs, Kent Higgins, Jennifer Higgins, AH, and NH (the "Higgins") were visiting Holiday World & Splashin' Safari when an abundance of chemicals poured into the "lazy river." The Higgins allege that they were injured as a result of the exposure. As such, they sued Defendant, Koch Development Corporation d/b/a Holiday World & Splashin' Safari ("Holiday World"), for negligence. Holiday World moves for summary judgment asserting that the Higgins cannot establish that its actions caused the alleged injuries. For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS summary judgment in favor of Holiday World.

I. Background

On June 20, 2009, the Higgins visited Holiday World and used the lazy river known as the "Bahari River." (Parties' Stipulation of Facts ¶ 1). A filter pump connected to a breaker filtered muriatic acid (also known as hydrochloric acid) and liquid bleach into the water. ( Id. at ¶ 3). The breaker that controlled this pump was tripped and shut off. ( Id. ). While Holiday World was in the process of re-setting the breaker connected to the filter pump, excess bleach and muriatic acid accumulated in the shut down filter pump. ( Id. ). Once the pump restarted, the excess chemicals were discharged into the Bahari River. ( Id. ). Upon discharge, the excess chemicals created and/or released chlorine gas. ( Id. ).

At the time of the discharge, the Higgins family was not near the Bahari River. (Deposition of Kent Higgins ("Higgins Dep.") 21:23-25). They proceeded to the Bahari River after receiving a phone call indicating that their niece, who was in or by the Bahari River, was in trouble. ( Id. 22:2-16). When they arrived, they were exposed to the chlorine gas. ( Id. ). Mr. Higgins went to the emergency room complaining of chest tightness and burning, eyes burning, shortness of breath, and nausea. (Emergency Department Nursing Flow Sheet, Docket #209). He was discharged that day with instructions to follow up with his primary physician. ( Id. ).

Dr. Zaman, Mr. Higgins' primary physician, referred Mr. Higgins to Dr. Linda Haacke, an internist and pulmonologist. She first evaluated him on August 18, 2010, more than a year after the exposure. (Letter from Dr. Haacke to Dr. Zaman dated August 18, 2010). Specifically, Dr. Haacke diagnosed Mr. Higgins with reactive airways dysfunction syndrome ("RADS") and asthma. She based this diagnosis in part on a letter indicating the results of a prior pulmonary function study performed in August 2009; Dr. Haacke did not have access to the actual results or data from that study at the time of diagnosis. ( Id. ). Dr. Haacke continues to treat Mr. Higgins' for his injuries, seeing him approximately once every six months and prescribing his medications. (Deposition of Dr. Haacke ("Dr. Haacke Dep.") 15:8-12, 16:5-10).

As a result, the Higgins sued Holiday World for their medical expenses in May 2011. (Complaint). The Higgins claim to have incurred medical expenses in the amounts of $19, 213.95 for Kent Higgins, $435 for Jennifer Higgins, $812.10 for NH, and $812.10 for AH. (Parties' Stipulated Facts ¶ 5).

Prior to the filing of the motion for summary judgment the court allowed Dr. Anthony Margherita to be belatedly identified as a causation expert. (Docket #63). After conducting discovery on Dr. Margherita, Holiday World filed a motion to exclude his testimony on multiple grounds. On December 3, 2013, the court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. (Docket #173). The court found that Dr. Margherita did not set forth a reliable methodology for determining causation, and thus his opinion on it must be excluded. ( Id. at 17). As a result, Holiday World filed the present motion for summary judgment on December 19, 2013.[1]

II. Standard

The purpose of summary judgment is to "pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the record "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party on the particular issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

On a motion for summary judgment, the burden rests with the moving party to demonstrate "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). After the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue for trial, the responsibility shifts to the non-movant to "go beyond the pleadings" and point to evidence of a genuine factual dispute precluding summary judgment. Id. at 322-23. "If the non-movant does not come forward with evidence that would reasonably permit the finder of fact to find in her favor on a material question, then the court must enter summary judgment against her." Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 585-87); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-52.

III. Discussion

Holiday World argues that summary judgment should be granted in its favor because the Higgins cannot prove causation. According to Holiday World, the Higgins must have an expert testify in order to establish causation and survive summary judgment. Holiday World contends that the Higgins do not have an expert to testify regarding causation because the court disqualified Dr. Margherita. The Higgins respond that an expert on causation is not necessary in this case, and that if one is, Dr. Haacke is qualified to provide expert testimony on causation. Holiday World asserts that Dr. Haacke's proffered testimony on causation should not be ...

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