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Alabama Supreme Court Orders Load Loss Lawsuit Transferred to Different County – Webster v. Southeast Alabama Timber Harvesting

By May 4, 2012July 18th, 2019Trucking Accidents

As a Missouri semi truck accident attorney, I was interested to read a case involving a loss of a dangerous load from the back of a truck. Any load loss can cause havoc on the road, but when large, heavy objects spill out of the back of a truck, they can cause immediate fatal accidents. Of course, the trucker and trucking company responsible for securing the load properly are the ones legally at fault for this kind of accident, and negligent driving can also play a part. In Webster v. Southeast Alabama Timber Harvesting et al., Patricia Gail Webster sued both the timber company and its truck driver over injuries she sustained when timber came loss from their truck. The lawsuit was filed in Chambers County, where the timber company is based, but in this appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered a change of venue to Lee County, where the accident took place.
Webster was driving on Marvyn Parkway in Lee County in February of 2011 when her car collided with timber that came loose from a truck driven by Michael J. Smith. Smith was employed by Southeast Alabama Timber Harvesting, which owned the tractor-trailer. Webster suffered unspecified serious injuries and was treated at a Lee County hospital. Two months later, Webster sued, alleging negligence in the loading of the truck; negligent hiring, training and supervision of Smith; wanton and reckless conduct, and violations of traffic laws. Though the accident had taken place in Lee County, where Webster lived at the time, she filed in Chambers County, where Southeast has its principal office, as Alabama law authorizes. The defendants, however, argued that the case should be moved to Lee County under forum non conveniens, meaning it would be more convenient for parties and witnesses. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion, triggering the instant appeal.
On appeal, the defendants sought a writ of mandamus ordering the case to Lee County, and the Alabama Supreme Court ultimately granted it, finding the interests of justice required moving the case. The “interests of justice” test requires the defendants to show that Lee County has a stronger connection to the action than Chambers County. The high court found they met that burden because the only connection the case has to Chambers County is the headquarters of Southeast. The accident took place in Lee County; emergency responders from Lee County helped out after the crash; and the only nonparty eyewitness to the accident also lives in Lee County. The high court dismissed Webster’s arguments that forum non conveniens favored the defendant’s home county, saying the cases she cited in support are easily distinguishable, while cases she failed to acknowledge are on point. Thus, it granted the writ of mandamus. Justice Murdock dissented, arguing that the high court has misinterpreted the interest of justice test in a way that negates state law.
As a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I suspect both parties have good reasons for their preferences. For better or for worse, some areas have a reputation for being friendly or unfriendly to defendants in civil lawsuits like this one. Madison County, near our Belleville, Ill. office, is nationally famous as a place where plaintiffs do well, although it’s not clear how true that is. If Webster and Southeast both felt that Lee County was friendlier to defendants, it’s not surprising that they’d put so much money and effort into supporting or opposing a move there even though the two counties are adjacent. Unfortunately, this decision doesn’t resolve the far more important issue of why the truck lost its load in the first place. No matter where the case is tried, as a St. Louis big rig accident attorney, I do not believe a jury will excuse clear negligence by a trucking company that inadequately secured such a dangerous load, or by a driver who was careless with other motorists’ lives.

Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients across Missouri and southern Illinois who lost a loved one or suffered catastrophic injuries because of a trucker’s or trucking company’s negligence. If you or someone you love is hurt and you’d like to tell us your story and learn more about your legal options, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message through our website.
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