United States District Court, D. Colorado
ANDREW BAUER, MEGAN DOUGHERTY, MARK ENDOZO, SPENCER ZAHN, KEATON KUSTLER-KLEIN, and JUSTIN ROBERTS, Plaintiffs,
CRETE CARRIERS CORPORATION, a Nebraska corporation, and MARLIN HARMS, Defendants.
A. BRIMMER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on defendants' Motion to
Bifurcate Damages Phase From Liability Phase [Docket No. 56].
The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
case arises out of a vehicle collision that occurred on April
17, 2015 in Aurora, Colorado. See Docket No. 4 at 4,
¶¶ 15-21. Plaintiffs - members of the band Twin
Shadow - allege that they were traveling to an event in
Lawrence, Kansas when their tour bus collided with a tractor
trailer driven by defendant Marlin Harms and owned by
defendant Crete Carriers Corporation. Id. Plaintiffs
filed this lawsuit in the District Court for the City and
County of Denver, Colorado on April 3, 2018, asserting claims
for negligence, negligence per se, vicarious liability, and
respondeat superior. Docket No. 4. On June 19, 2018,
defendants removed the case to this Court on the basis of
diversity jurisdiction. Docket No. 1 at 1, ¶ 1. On
December 20, 2018, defendants moved to bifurcate the trial
into a liability phase and a damages phase. Docket No. 56.
Plaintiffs filed a response to the motion on January 17,
2019, agreeing to bifurcation, but asserting that they should
be allowed to present minimal evidence of their injuries
during the liability phase. Docket No. 63. Defendants filed a
reply on January 31, 2019 in which they opposed the
presentation of any damages evidence during the liability
phase on the ground that it would “defeat the entire
purpose of bifurcation.” Docket No. 66 at 2.
March 5, 2019, the Court ordered the parties to file a joint
supplemental brief clarifying the specific issues that would
be addressed in each phase of trial, the degree to which the
parties were willing to stipulate to plaintiffs' injuries
during the liability phase, the effect, if any, of that
stipulation on the presentation of evidence, and whether
plaintiffs' stipulation to bifurcate the trial was
contingent on their ability to present evidence of their
injuries during the liability phase. Docket No. 81 at 2. The
parties filed their joint supplemental brief on March 12,
2019. Docket No. 88.
on the briefing, the Court finds that the parties agree on
the following issues: (1) bifurcating this case into a
liability phase and a damages phase, see Docket No.
63 at 1 (stating that the parties “have stipulated to
bifurcating liability and damages”); (2) the liability
phase of trial will address liability only, whereas the
damages phase will address both “causation” and
damages, Docket No. 88 at 1; and (3) discovery and
adjudication of the damages issue will occur only after a
jury determines liability. Docket No. 66 at 1 (stipulating
with plaintiffs that, “if liability is found after the
liability phase of the trial, . . . a new scheduling
conference will occur to schedule deadlines for damages
discovery, damages disclosures and the scheduling of the
second phase trial on damages”). The parties'
disputes appear to be whether plaintiff Bauer should be
permitted to testify regarding his alleged injuries in the
liability phase and whether the Court should instruct the
jury that the remaining plaintiffs were injured in the
collision. See Docket No. 88 at 2-3.
initial matter, the Court agrees with the parties that
bifurcating this case into liability and damages phases is
appropriate. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) allows a
court to order separate trials on “one or more separate
issues [or] claims” in a case “[f]or convenience,
to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize.”
Courts have “broad discretion in deciding whether to
sever issues for trial.” Rowland v. United
States, No. 14-cv-00883-KLM-MEH, 2015 WL 4943955, at *2
(D. Colo. Aug. 20, 2015) (quoting Green Constr. Co. v.
Kan. Power & Light Co., 1 F.3d 1005, 1011 (10th Cir.
1993)). Bifurcation is not an abuse of discretion where the
interests of convenience, avoiding prejudice, and promoting
expedition and economy “favor separation of issues and
the issues are clearly separable.” Angelo v.
Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 11 F.3d 957, 964 (10th
Cir. 1993). In contrast, a court should not bif urcate a
trial if it would be “unfair or prejudicial to a
the interests of convenience and judicial economy favor
bifurcation. While the liability issues appear to be
relatively straightforward, resolution of plaintiffs'
damages claims is likely to be both time-consuming and
costly. Plaintiffs have identified at least seventy-eight
medical treatment providers from around the country who may
be called to testify regarding plaintiffs' injuries,
Docket No. 56 at 10; Docket No. 56-2, and defendants estimate
that at least ten days of a fifteen-day trial would be
required on the issue of damages. Docket No. 56 at 7. Given
that a finding of nonliability would obviate the need to
address damages, bifurcation has the potential to promote the
efficient and economical resolution of this case. See
Rowland, 2015 WL 4943955, at *2 (holding that
“bifurcation would serve the interests of convenience,
expedience, and economization” where “27
witnesses . . . would not [be required] to testify if the
case [was] bifurcated and liability [was] not found”).
Court also finds that the liability and damages issues are
clearly separable. As the court noted in Rowland,
the evidence necessary to prove liability in a negligence
case is significantly different from the evidence used to
establish damages. See Rowland, 2015 WL 4943955, at
*2; see also Docket No. 56 at 10-11 (explaining
types of evidence that will be presented in the liability and
damages phases of trial). On the other hand, the Court
disagrees with the parties that the issue of causation should
be confined solely to the damages phase. See Docket
No. 88 at 1 (stating that the damages phase of trial will
address causation and damages). There are two causation
questions in this case: (1) whether defendants'
negligence was the cause of the collision; and (2) whether
the collision was the cause of plaintiffs' injuries. The
former question depends on what actually happened on the day
of the accident and is thus appropriately resolved during the
liability phase of trial. The latter question raises an issue
of medical causation and should be addressed in conjunction
bifurcation will not result in any prejudice to the parties.
Although plaintiffs maintain that they should be permitted to
present minimal evidence of their injuries during the
liability phase, their agreement to bifurcate the trial is
not contingent on their ability to present such evidence.
Docket No. 88 at 3.
foregoing reasons, the Court will bifurcate the trial in this
case into two phases. The first phase will address negligence
and accident causation, as previously discussed. The second
phase will address injury causation and damages.
only remaining issue is whether plaintiffs should be allowed
to present minimal evidence of their injuries during the
liability phase of trial. The Court finds that they should
not. As defendants argue, presentation of injury evidence
during the liability phase would be highly prejudicial and
would defeat the purposes of bifurcation. See Docket
No. 88 at 2. Plaintiffs appear to believe that they must
present some evidence regarding their injuries in order to
establish liability. See Docket No. 63 at 3 (arguing
that a negligence claim requires proof of a breach of duty,
causation, and damages). However, the purpose of bifurcation
is to defer resolution of issues that, though essential to
the overall claim, are better addressed separately. Because
plaintiffs will have a full and fair opportunity to prove
their injuries during the damages phase of trial, there is no
need for their proposed injury instruction during the
liability phase. See Docket No. 88 at 2 (proposed
jury instruction on plaintiffs' injuries).
Bauer requests that he be allowed to testify about his
injuries during the liability phase so the jury will have
some context for his behavior. Docket No. 63 at 4; Docket No.
88 at 2. The Court finds such testimony unnecessary. While
plaintiff Bauer has expressed valid concerns about how the
jury might perceive his physical condition, a more
appropriate remedy is for the Court to instruct the jury on
the issue at the beginning of trial. The parties are
encouraged to submit a joint instruction that would address
plaintiff Bauer's concerns while avoiding prejudice to
that plaintiff's Unopposed Motion for Telephonic
Conference [Docket No. ...