Transport Company May Be Liable for Indiana Truck Driver Injury

A trucker severely injured when his trailer contents fell on him as he opened  the trailer door won a partial legal victory when the Indiana Court of Appeals recently overturned a summary judgment against the trucking company whose employee loaded the trailer.

Munster personal injury attorneys will note that while this was a work-related injury, which presumably would entitle the truck driver to workers’ compensation from his own employer, such third-party lawsuits to cover the full cost of losses is not uncommon in Indiana.

The trial court in this case held that both the engine parts manufacturer whose cargo was stowed in the truck, and the trucking company contracted to facilitate transport, did not owe a duty of care to the over-the-road-truck driver, whose employer was contracted by the trucking company to deliver the materials over longer distances. The state appellate court last month reversed this decision, at least as it pertained to the trucking company that contracted with the driver’s employer.

The cargo in question consisted of empty containers that had been lubricated with solvents. These were shipped from the manufacturer’s primary facility in Columbus, Indiana to a North Carolina facility some 650 miles away. The trailer had been loaded by an employee of the local trucking company, which was also responsible for directing its out-of-state transport.

When the plaintiff arrived to pick up the load, he didn’t notice anything unusual about the way the containers had been stacked. However, when he arrived at the final destination and opened the door of the trailer, the materials tumbled out on top of him. As it turned out, the cargo hadn’t been blocked and braced, which is standard for transport of materials of that size and weight. The results were serious permanent and disabling personal injuries, including traumatic brain injury and a broken neck.

Although workers’ compensation does provide those injured in the course and scope of employment with no-fault benefits like lost wages, reimbursement for medical bills and coverage of vocational training, such benefits don’t allow for non-economic damages such as pain-and-suffering. Munster personal injury lawyers know negligent third parties found liable are often compelled to pay these types of damages, which are especially critical if a work injury is serious and/or results in permanent disability.

The plaintiff argued the trucking company and the manufacturer were negligent for improper loading of the cargo, which proximately caused victim’s injury.

The defendants argued they were entitled to judgment in their favor as a matter of law because the plaintiff failed to prove:

  • the cargo was in fact negligently loaded;
  • that either company had taken on the responsibility to secure the driver’s load;
  • that even if those things were true, plaintiff, an experienced trucker, was comparatively negligent in his failure to notice there was a problem;
  • that anyone from either firm had given the trucker any assurance before he left that the cargo was properly loaded; and
  • that he was not denied an opportunity to check the load himself.

The trucking company defendant also argued federal (49 C.F.R. § 392.9) law expressly imparts a duty of care to inspect the load on the driver.

The appellate court was not convinced, instead finding credibility in the driver’s assertion that the circumstances in this case didn’t offer him any realistic chance to inspect the trailer contents. Justices noted in their opinion that it was the trucking company exclusively that loaded the freight and that the it could not hide behind the trucker’s duty to adhere to federal safety regulations for its own negligence in alleged failure to comply with industry standards for truck loading.

Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.