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South Carolina Court Finds Trucking Company Not Vicariously Liable for Trucker’s Fistfight – Kase v. Ebert

By August 3, 2011July 16th, 2019Trucking Laws

As a Missouri semi truck accident attorney, I represent people who were injured by truck drivers who slammed into their cars because of unsafe driving choices. In most cases, those truckers were acting within the scope of their employment, which means their employers, the trucking companies, also bear some blame for the crashes. A South Carolina appeals court found the opposite in Kase v. Ebert, a lawsuit against a trucker and his trucking company by another trucker. James Kase sued Michael Ebert and DMX Transportation Inc. over injuries he sustained when Ebert rear-ended his parked truck and engaged him in a physical fight. The South Carolina Court of Appeals found that Ebert was not acting as an employee, and thus Kase could not recover damages from DMX.
Kase was parked at a South Carolina truck stop in 2006 when he felt another vehicle bump into his. The accident itself was minor and did not injure Kase, but the two men got into a fight that injured Kase badly enough to keep him out of work for several months and eventually cost him his job. The court did not discuss who was the aggressor, but noted that Ebert fled the scene of the fight and was arrested later. Ebert had a troubled professional history that included a commercial driver’s license suspension for having too many citations in a short period; two written reprimands from DMX centered on Ebert’s hostility and performance; and a written citation in Wisconsin for speeding and inattentive driving. His personal history included a 22-year-old assault conviction arising from a parking dispute as well as failure to pay child support, requiring DMX to withhold it from his wages. Ebert continued to work for DMX for a few months after the incident, but was ultimately let go because of insubordination and too many speeding tickets.
Kase sued Ebert for assault and battery and gross negligence, and DMX for gross negligence and negligent hiring, entrustment, retention, supervision and training. DMX successfully moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had not been negligent and was not vicariously liable for Ebert’s actions because he was not acting within the course and scope of his employment. Kase appealed, arguing to the South Carolina Court of Appeals that DMX endorsed or encouraged its employees to use violence to protect DMX property. The court did not find this convincing. There is no evidence that Ebert was acting to protect DMX property when he fought Kase, the court said; he was fighting off a perceived attack. Nor did the court of appeals agree that there was enough evidence that DMX knew of Ebert’s potential for violence to put it on notice. The prior assault conviction was not enough to support a negligent hiring cause of action because it was more than 22 years old when Ebert was hired, the court said. And under South Carolina law, the situation did not meet requirements for negligent supervision and retention because Ebert was not on or using DMX property. For all these reasons, the appeals court ultimately upheld the trial court’s summary judgment order.
Because this case involves a dispute between two truck drivers, you might wonder why it would interest a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident lawyer who represents drivers of ordinary cars. Even though Kase was a truck driver himself, he was in a very similar position to many of my clients when he sued DMX for negligence and vicarious liability. The trucking company can be genuinely guilty of bad decisions when it hires bad or unqualified drivers, or when it encourages or orders law-breaking. And unfortunately, the trucker is far less likely than his or her employer to have the deep pockets necessary to adequately compensate victims with serious injuries. As a St. Louis big rig accident attorney, I want all of the information I can get that could help my injured clients get the financial compensation and medical care they need.

Carey, Danis & Lowe focuses its practice on helping victims of semi truck crashes caused by someone else’s negligence. If you or someone you love was seriously hurt by the actions of a trucker or trucking company, we can help. For more information or to set up a meeting, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message through our website.
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