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High Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Trucking Accident Vicarious Liability Case – Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co.

By July 10, 2013Trucking Accidents

As a Missouri semi truck accident lawyer, I was interested to read about a trucking crash that took place just over the Oklahoma border from Joplin and led to a case at the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co., a couple and their minor son were injured when their tractor-trailer collided with a vehicle rented by employees of Carolina Forge Company. Charles and Jennifer Sheffer and their son J.S. all suffered injuries when William Garris and David Billups attempted to turn around on the interstate and collided with the Sheffers’ truck. The Sheffers sued Carolina Forge, but their suit was dismissed on summary judgment. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found that a reasonable jury could disagree about whether the employees were “at work” at the time, and reversed.
Garris and Billups were in Joplin from North Carolina, on a business trip during which they met with customer F.A.G. Bearings. Carolina Forge paid for the airplane tickets and rental car and provided cash for the employees to entertain the customer’s employees. They met with the customer on their first day, made a presentation and entertained its employees. Once they were done, Garris and Billups decided to go over the state line to the Buffalo Run Casino. When they were done there, they tried to go back to Joplin, but accidentally took westbound Interstate 44 instead of eastbound. While attempting to turn around at an opening in the lane barricade, they collided with the Sheffers’ 18-wheeler, killing Billups and injuring everyone else. The Sheffers sued Carolina Forge in Oklahoma trial court, but the trial court granted summary judgment to the company, ruling that Billups and Garris were not acting in the course and scope of their employment during the crash, and Carolina Forge did not negligently entrust the vehicle to them.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding that the case could survive summary judgment on both issues. Negligent entrustment with an automobile may be alleged if the driver is intoxicated or likely to get intoxicated, and the record shows that Carolina Forge had reimbursed employees for drinks on several similar past trips. Nor was there a policy against drinking and driving a company-funded car, the court noted. Thus, a reasonable jury could find that Carolina Forge was negligent when it paid for the rental car for employees likely to drink. On the claims seeking to hold Carolina Forge responsible as the employer, the court said, it must be shown that Billings and Garris were within the course and scope of their employment during the crash. Carolina Forge had put no restrictions on their use of the car, the court said, and they were only in Joplin to begin with because of the business trip. This is a matter of fact that a jury should decide, the court said, and thus adequate to survive summary judgment.
As a St. Louis 18-wheeler accident attorney, I agree that this is not a clear enough case to require summary judgment for the employer. Whether someone was within the course and scope of employment during an accident is often a very important issue, because it affects whether the employer is legally liable for the crash. This, in turn, affects how much money the victims are likely to recover, because individual drivers are less likely to have enough money to pay the high economic costs of a trucking accident injury. In a typical case, victims allege a negligent trucker slammed into their car, causing serious injuries that require long-term medical care and caused them to lose substantial income, sometimes for life. When the trucking company was negligent, it’s part of my job as a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident lawyer to ensure that it is held legally responsible for its part in causing the crash.

If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries in a crash caused by negligence with a large truck, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. You can contact us through our website or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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