As a Missouri semi truck accident lawyer, I was interested to see a case out of Idaho that allowed a lawsuit against the employer of an allegedly negligent truck driver. In Nava v. Rivas-Del Toro, Beatriz Nava and her minor daughter, Sarai Victorino, sued truck driver Christian Rivas-Del Toro as well as his employer, Cranney Farms. Nava alleged not only that Cranney Farms liable because Rivas-Del Toro was a permissive user, but that they failed to adequately maintain the truck. The farm successfully moved to be dismissed because Rivas-Del Toro was outside the scope of his employment during the crash, but the Idaho Supreme Court reinstated the farm as a defendant, finding that this is not a defense against Nava’s allegations. It also reversed a grant of summary judgment on negligent maintenance.
Rivas-Del Toro is a Mexican citizen in the United States illegally. In June of 2007, he asked for and received permission to replace two tires on the truck’s trailer before using it to haul bales of hay. The truck also had an inaccurate speedometer, and to avoid a potential stop for speeding, Rivas-Del Toro took local streets rather than the highway. During that trip, he failed to stop at a stop sign and hit a car driven by Nava, with Victorino as a passenger. Rivas-Del Toro contends that the brakes on the trailer malfunctioned. Nava sued over unspecified injuries and property damage, alleging that Cranney Farms permitted Rivas-Del Toro to use the truck and also had recklessly allowed the truck to become unsafe. The trial court found that because Rivas-Del Toro took a longer route for personal reasons (to avoid the police), he was acting outside the scope of his employment and Cranney Farms was not vicariously liable. It dismissed the farm from the lawsuit with prejudice. Both Nava and Rivas-Del Toro appealed.
The Idaho Supreme Court started by finding the trial court’s analysis of Rivas-Del Toro’s scope of employment erroneous. Idaho courts may find employers liable even when the employee deviated from the most direct route for personal reasons, and Rivas-Del Toro was on work-related business at the direction of his employer. However, it went on to say that this analysis is irrelevant because Nava did not allege causes of action to which it would apply. Her tort claims were not based on an employer-employee relationship, the court said, but on Rivas-Del Toro as a permissive user and on the alleged disrepair of the vehicle. Furthermore, the trial court’s summary judgment grant was incorrectly applied to the negligent repair claim as well as the claim for Rivas-Del Toro as permissive user — for which the defendants had not moved for summary judgment. The plaintiffs brought the issue to the trial court’s attention, the high court noted, but fruitlessly. For those reasons, the Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment grant and remanded the case.
I’m pleased to see that the plaintiffs in this case will get a chance to prove their allegations, despite apparent failures by the trial court. While a permissive user claim is not common for a St. Louis tractor-trailer accident attorney like me, Nava’s other claim, about negligence in allowing the truck to fall into disrepair, is quite common. Trucking companies have a legal responsibility to make sure their trucks are roadworthy, and in fact, must pass inspections by the federal government. Nonetheless, some of them choose to save money by failing to fix repair problems. The most serious resulting maintenance problems on large trucks include brake and tire problems, both of which can trigger a serious accident. In addition to putting innocent passenger car drivers in danger, these maintenance flaws can also endanger the company’s own employees. As a southern Illinois 18-wheeler accident lawyer, I aggressively research safety records when there’s an allegation that a big rig crash was caused by a maintenance flaw.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents families that have lost a loved one or suffered a serious injury because of an accident with a large truck. If you or someone you love was hurt and you’d like to learn more about your legal rights, call us today for a free consultation at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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