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Wrongful Death Case Revived for Determination of Mechanic’s Negligence

The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled, according to a recent unpublished opinion, that a district court incorrectly entered summary judgment in favor of a defendant mechanic in a case that alleged that the mechanic was negligent in his repairs of a truck that later struck and killed a man after the truck’s parking brake failed.

In Pennington v. Ed’s Tire Service, Inc., the defendant mechanic had performed maintenance work on a truck owned by the Bureau of Land Management, including repairs related to the truck’s parking brake and parking brake cable. Soon thereafter, the truck was stopped on downward sloping ground when the parking brake failed. The truck rolled forward and hit and killed Thaddius Shelton, who was working at the property at the time.

The plaintiff filed suit on behalf of Mr. Shelton for his wrongful death, alleging that the defendant negligently failed to properly perform repairs on the truck, which caused the brake to fail, ultimately leading to Mr. Shelton’s death. In such a negligence action, the plaintiff is required to prove that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) that breach was the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and (4) the plaintiff suffered damages.

With regard to the first element, the defendant argued that it did not repair the part of the parking brake that allegedly failed, and therefore it owed no duty of care to Mr. Shelton relative to the failure of that part. Likewise, the defendant argued that it did not breach any duty of care that was owed to Mr. Shelton, and that nothing it did or failed to do was the cause of Mr. Shelton’s death. The district court agreed with the defendant’s arguments, and entered summary judgment in the defendant’s favor, effectively ending the plaintiff’s wrongful death case against it.

The Nevada Supreme Court reversed that judgment, and reinstated the case for trial. The court found that the plaintiff had presented evidence that the defendant mechanic either caused the faulty parking brake at the time it was repairing the brake cable, or that the defendant saw or should have seen that the assembly was loose during the two times that it performed repairs on the cable. Accordingly, the plaintiff had presented genuine issues of material fact that made the question of the defendant’s negligence appropriate for jury consideration, and inappropriate for summary judgment.