One challenge I face as a Missouri semi truck accident attorney is where to sue when the defendants come from multiple states. Trucking companies are mobile by definition, so they may be headquartered in a state very far from the state where a crash takes place. Truck drivers may be from yet another state, and sometimes, the drivers who are hurt are away from their home states as well. Courts in the state where the accident took place will usually agree to hear a case, but for reasons of convenience or as a way to draw out the case, either side may try to relocate it. Whether Alabama was the proper venue to hear a semi truck crash case was the issue in In re Ivey v. Lewis Trucking Company. In that case, the Alabama Supreme Court found no personal jurisdiction over three of four defendants from other states.
In early October of 2008, American Timber & Steel Company sold some lumber from a Texas lumber yard to a Florida fencing company. To arrange shipping, ATSC used a website called Getloaded.com, which allows truckers and trucking companies to bid on jobs, to find and hire Lewis Trucking. The contract was honored even though ATSC discovered through independent research that Lewis had a federal safety rating of 98.22 out of a possible 100, with 100 being the lowest possible score. On Oct. 3, 2008, as the driver made his way through Alabama, he attempted to pass another truck driver, who reportedly signaled that it was clear. It was not clear; the lumber truck hit a van head-on as it tried to pass. The resulting fire killed six applicants for jobs at the Alabama Department of Corrections, as well as a driver. Their families sued both truck drivers, both trucking companies; the driver and trucking company that gave the incorrect all-clear signal settled early. They consolidated in July of 2010 and added ATSC and several companies related to Getloaded. The amended complaint alleged that ATSC negligently hired Lewis despite knowing its terrible safety record and negligently loaded the truck, and that the Getloaded defendants negligently failed to investigate the safety record of the carriers it listed. These new defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, which the trial court denied, finding they had sufficient minimum contacts with Alabama. The defendants appealed.
The Alabama Supreme Court reversed in part, finding no personal jurisdiction over the Getloaded defendants but jurisdiction over ATSC. Assuming without comment that the claims against ATSC are viable, the court said ATSC could reasonably have assumed its truck would travel through Alabama in the journey from Texas to Florida. Similarly, it said ATSC could reasonably have assumed that if the truck driver was unsafe or the truck had been loaded negligently, this could cause problems while the truck was in Alabama. Thus, it would not be unreasonable or unfair to require ATSC to respond to a lawsuit located in Alabama. However, the high court declined to make the same ruling about the Getloaded defendants. Assuming the viability of the plaintiffs’ allegations that Getloaded and its relatives failed in a duty to screen carriers, the court said there was still no reasonable expectation that this failure would cause problems in Alabama. Indeed, the court noted that the Getloaded defendants were not even aware of the job. Thus, the high court dismissed the charges as to the Getloaded defendants and denied a dismissal to ATSC.
As a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I suspect we will be seeing more cases involving businesses like Getloaded.com. Online companies arguably operate in every state, since they are available to clients located anywhere there’s a working Internet connection. However, there’s a difference between arranging shipping in every state and actually doing the shipping in every state. That difference may be what underlies the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision in this case. In trucking cases, which involve defendants and insurers from many states, there are occasionally disputes over which venue is correct, even when no Internet businesses are involved. Sometimes these are real disputes and sometimes, they are attempts to prolong the case and strain the resources of the plaintiffs, who are usually individuals or families struggling with a serious injury or death in the family As a St. Louis commercial truck crash attorney, I represent clients whose crashes or residences are in Missouri or Illinois, and can team up with attorneys in other states when necessary.
If your family has been affected by a serious trucking accident you believe was caused by a trucker’s or trucking company’s negligence, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, send us an email or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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