Alabama High Court Denies Appeal by Family of Trucker Killed by Tire Blowout – Eastman v. R .Warehousing & Port Services

By September 11, 2013Verdicts and Settlements

According to federal statistics, trucking accidents most often kill the people in smaller vehicles that are unlucky enough to collide with a large commercial truck. But a minority of trucking accident victims are truck drivers themselves. Though poor decisions or bad luck likely contributes to that number, another reason why truckers to are injured or killed in accidents is inadequate maintenance of the truck itself. Trucking companies here in Missouri and nationwide that are trying to save money may cut corners on maintenance of vital systems like tires and brakes, which can have deadly consequences not only for drivers around the truck, but for their own employees. A tire blowout was behind Eastman v. R. Warehousing & Port Services, an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court of an unsuccessful semi truck accident lawsuit by Jessica Eastman, the widow of David Bentley.
Bentley was a truck driver employed by Richway Transportation Services. Before leaving Mobile with a load, he asked a supervisor to check his front tires. The supervisor agreed that the tires were worn, but instructed Bentley to have them replaced at Richway’s Georgiana, Ala. facility. On the way to Georgiana, the right front tire of the truck blew out, causing Bentley to lose control of the truck and suffer fatal injuries in a crash. Eastman, on behalf of herself and Bentley’s three minor children, sued R. Warehousing, a brokerage company that used Richway and has many of the same officers. R. Warehousing employee Michael Richardson was manager of day-to-day operations at Richway. In the lawsuit, Eastman alleged that R. Warehousing was responsible for the crash through its employee Richardson, who instituted the policy that forced Bentley to drive to Georgiana. But the jury found that Richardson was a “loaned servant” to Richway and thus that R. Warehousing was not liable.
On appeal, Eastman argued that the trial court should have granted her judgment as a matter of law on the loaned-servant issue, saying R. Warehousing never presented sufficient evidence to support a jury charge on the defense. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed. An employee who is a loaned servant is legally the employee of the business he or she was “loaned” to, not his or her employer of record. In this case, R. Warehousing had the burden of proving that Richardson was a loaned servant. The court said the crucial question is which employer controlled the decisions and acts by Richardson that led to Bentley’s death. A reasonable jury could have concluded that it was Richway, the court said; Richardson was day-to-day manager at Richway. Furthermore, the court noted, Richardson’s services were outside the scope of R. Warehousing’s work; the company does not even have DOT authorization to run a trucking company. Thus, the trial court was not wrong when it denied the motion for judgment as a matter of law, the high court found.
It’s not uncommon in St. Louis tractor-trailer accident cases for multiple potential defendants to be involved. Truck drivers are sometimes independent owner-operators who drive for a larger company; freight companies sometimes also hire third-party trucking companies to handle shipping. And each entity involved is likely to have its own insurance company, creating even more interested parties to the lawsuit. This can be a serious headache for accident victims and their families, especially when they’re already sorting out the injuries and medical costs of a crash. At Carey, Danis & Lowe, we help our clients sort out the legal relationships between all these parties, so we can make the best possible arguments in the later big rig accident lawsuits.


If your family suffered a death or a catastrophic injury because of a serious truck accident in Missouri or southern Illinois, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for a free consultation. You can send us an email or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400 today.
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