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Mississippi Supreme Court Removes Liability From Company Over Stolen Truck – Mitchell Crane Services Inc. v. Page

By November 22, 2013July 16th, 2019Trucking Accidents

An unusual case out of Mississippi asked a jury to decide how much fault a company bears for an accident caused by a thief who stole its heavy truck and the truck’s load of cargo. In Mitchell Crane Services Inc. v. Page, it was not disputed that Mitchell’s cargo—counterweights for a crane—was lying in the highway on the night of July 25, 1999. This caused accidents involving two vehicles and a total of 13 people, some of whom had serious injuries. But the cargo had gotten there after a thief apparently stole a truck from Mitchell’s parking lot; the truck was later found in another location. In the subsequent trucking accident lawsuit, a jury found Mitchell 25 percent at fault, and a trial judge denied Mitchell’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Both sides appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, ordering that judgment notwithstanding the verdict be granted.
Mitchell Crane sells and rents cranes. On the evening of July 23, a Friday, an employee picked up a pull truck from a repair shop and drove it back to the business. It was already loaded with crane counterweights. The employee locked the door and put the keys in a key box inside the office, leaving the counterweights on the truck. The truck and counterweights were to be used at a job the next Monday. However, when employees showed up Monday, the truck was gone. Meanwhile, at 10 p.m. on Sunday, July 25, two vehicles struck the counterweights, which had been strewn across the southbound lanes of Interstate 59. Police officers looked fruitlessly for a truck at a nearby truck stop in Slidell, Louisiana, that had lost this kind of load. Both vehicles were extensively damaged and some of the occupants were seriously injured. The stolen truck was ultimately found Sept. 1 in bad condition.
The same month, the Page family sued, alleging that either a Mitchell employee was driving the truck or the company had failed to adequately secure the truck and its load. The judge denied Mitchell’s motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict both before and after the damages phase; the jury found that a thief was driving and Mitchell was 25 percent responsible. On cross-appeals, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the denial of judgment notwithstanding the verdict, saying Mitchell can have no liability if the truck was stolen. Under previous Mississippi cases, a defendant cannot be liable if it merely “furnished the condition or occasion from which the injuries were received, but did not put in motion the negligence and wrongful agency that caused the injury.” Other cases say that the theft of a vehicle is an intervening cause that makes the true owner not liable for the thief’s negligent driving. Thus, the trial court erred in denying judgment notwithstanding the verdict, after the jury found the truck had been stolen.
In a semi truck accident lawsuit like this one, where the truck was outside the trucking company’s control, it’s important to ask whether the trucking company or trucker were negligent in the way they secured the vehicle. The Mississippi Supreme Court noted that negligence in securing a car has not led to liability in a past case. But in other states, a jury may well find that, say, leaving a truck running with the keys in the ignition makes the negligent driver liable—and thus, the trucking company would also be liable. Liability may also stem from negligence in choosing and securing the load, because a poorly secured load can shift and cause a crash. This would give seriously injured people a chance to file a tractor-trailer accident lawsuit holding the negligent trucker or trucking company responsible for their part in the crash, even if there was a thief or another intervening cause.

If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries because of a trucking company’s or truck driver’s bad decision, call Carey, Danis & Lowe to discuss your case and your legal options. You can send us a message online or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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