As a Missouri trucking accident attorney, I was interested to see a court case in which the truck driver was the one claiming injury. In Owens v. Griffin Wood, the driver of a log truck sued the driver of a truck whose utility trailer hit the log truck, as well as his own employer. John Owens was at work for Griffin Wood when James Waltman’s trailer hit the truck, injuring Owens. The resulting lawsuit included a workers’ compensation claim against Griffin Wood, leading Owens to file in Griffin Wood’s home county, Perry County. The trial court denied motions to move the case to Tuscaloosa County, where the crash took place. But the Alabama Supreme Court reversed.
At the time of the accident Owens was driving a log truck that was empty down Greenboro Avenue in Tuscaloosa County. Waltman was driving down Greenboro Avenue, towing a utility trailer. The trailer disconnected from Waltman’s vehicle and struck the log truck, injuring Owens in a way the opinion did not specify. Owens filed the resulting lawsuit in Perry County because Griffin Woods is based there. The lawsuit included a workers’ compensation claim against Griffin Wood, as well as negligence claims against Waltman, and uninsured motorist claims against insurance companies GEICO and Progressive. Waltman moved to transfer the case to Tuscaloosa County, arguing that the accident occurred in Tuscaloosa County, the trailer had been attached there and Waltman was, at the time, living there. Progressive agreed. The trial court bifurcated the workers’ compensation claims, but ultimately denied the motions to transfer the remaining claims to Tuscaloosa County.
On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding that the interests of justice required a transfer. Alabama state law permits courts to transfer cases when it’s convenient for parties and witnesses or in the interests of justice. To analyze what was in the interests of justice, the court looked at which county had a stronger connection to the case, and previous cases with similar facts. Tuscaloosa County is where the accident took place, the court said, and the trailer hitch was attached by a Tuscaloosa County company on the day of the accident. Furthermore, Waltman is and was a resident of Tuscaloosa County. By contrast, the court said, the only connection to Perry County was the fact that Griffin Wood is based there⎯and the trial court has bifurcated the Griffin Wood part of the case. In addition there’s no evidence that Griffin Woods has paid any workers’ compensation claims and thus would need to file for subrogation of any recovery awarded to Owens. Finding Owens’s other arguments unavailing, it ordered the case transferred.
As a St. Louis semi truck accident lawyer, I wonder if there’s more to this dispute than just the convenience of the parties. Often, parties perceive some counties as especially friendly to trucking accident lawsuits, or other injury cases. If Perry County is such a place, it might be worth the trouble for plaintiffs like Owens to attempt to keep cases there. Here in greater St. Louis, some counties in nearby southern Illinois are considered plaintiff-friendly. However, our southern Illinois big rig accident attorneys believe any venue can be plaintiff-friendly if the case is strong.
If your family is struggling with the personal and financial effects of a crash with a large truck, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe to discuss whether a trucking accident lawsuit is right for you. For a free consultation, send us an email or call today at 1-877-678-3400.
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