In a recent case, the plaintiffs appealed the summary judgment dismissal of their case in favor of a trucking company and against their amended complaint for injuries they sustained when a semi-trailer truck struck their motorcycle.
The plaintiffs argued that the trucking company owned and operated the truck that caused their accident, but the trucking company denied responsibility. The district court ruled that, under state law, the “facts and circumstances . . . fail[ed] to create a genuine issue for [a] jury regarding the ownership of the [truck] and whether the [truck] was being operated by [the trucking company] employee or agent . . . within the course and scope of employment.”
The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
As the plaintiffs drove northbound in the left lane on Interstate 75 in Georgia, a semi-trailer truck pulling a trailer owned by Dollar General drove alongside the couple in the middle lane of traffic. Between exits 201 and 205 for Jackson, Georgia, the truck merged into the plaintiffs’ lane and sideswiped their motorcycle, which knocked the couple off their motorcycle and onto the road.
Two Good Samaritans stopped their vehicles and ran to aid the plaintiffs. When law enforcement arrived, the three eyewitnesses reported that the trailer bore the Dollar General logo. One witness also reported that the truck was “dark blue” with “white writing.”
When deposed, one of the Good Samaritans testified that the semi-trailer was the trucking company truck. He stated that he saw the “dark blue” cab when the collision caused “one of the tires [to] go flat on the [Dollar General] trailer.”
He knew “it was [a] the trucking company” truck because, as a commercial driver, he saw its trucks regularly hauling Dollar General trailers. The Good Samaritan acknowledged that the “dark blue” the trucking company truck looked just like the truck, but he knew they were a newer company with Dollar General, and he’d never seen the trucking company’s trucks hauling a Dollar General trailer in the area where the accident happened. On further questioning, he said that the logo on the truck was “blue with a yellow or white outline.”
The plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging the trucking company was vicariously liable for the negligence of its unnamed employee. The trucking company moved for summary judgment and submitted a declaration from its director of safety that none of its trucks was involved in the plaintiffs’ accident. The director declared that each of their trucks was equipped with a tracking device that recorded its location and speed and that alerted the company of a “‘critical event’ such as a sudden deceleration or lateral movement beyond a certain threshold.'” He said that seven company trucks were attached to Dollar General trailers on the day of the accident and that the trucks’ tracking data established that they were far away from the accident. The trucking company attached to the declaration a report listing the location history of its trucks.
The plaintiffs opposed summary judgment and submitted the deposition of a manager for Dollar General. The manager testified that there was a “very high likelihood” that the trailer involved in the plaintiffs’ accident originated in Jackson, Georgia, which was the exclusive distribution center for Dollar General in the state, and that the “only providers that pull trailers out of that Jackson distribution center were the trucking company. But the manager acknowledged that Dollar General also used other trucking companies to haul its trailers. As a result, he couldn’t eliminate the possibility “that another carrier could have routed his driver down 75.”
The manager testified that “less than 60 percent” of its trailers had tracking devices on the day of the accident. Moreover, the investigation by Dollar General showed that seven trailers with tracking devices were being pulled by the trucking company; six of the trailers were excluded from involvement based on their location data; and the seventh trailer hadn’t been accounted for by either the trucking company or Dollar General.
What’s the Insignia Rule?
Based on the evidence, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia entered summary judgment in favor of the trucking company. Based on the “insignia rule” in Georgia, the district court ruled that the Good Samaritan’s statement that there was a trucking company logo on the truck that caused the plaintiffs’ accident, without more, was insufficient to establish that the trucking company was liable.
The district court determined that the plaintiffs’ evidence that the semi-trailer truck was dark blue, that the trucking company transported Dollar General trailers, and that the trucking company frequently traveled near the Dollar General distribution center where the accident occurred was too “tenuous” to establish the trucking company owned the truck that caused the accident. That was because of the evidence that Dollar General used other carrier companies and that the trucking company excluded its trucks from involvement.
The district court also determined that there was “simply no evidence, other than the tractor-trailer’s mere proximity to the distribution center, that the driver of the tractor-trailer was operating the vehicle within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.”
The Eleventh Circuit Agrees with the Trucking Company
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that to avoid summary judgment on their complaint of negligence, the plaintiffs had to establish a causal connection between their injury and the trucking company. Under Georgia law, which the parties agreed applies, “the mere presence of lettering or a logo on the side of a vehicle, without more, is insufficient to establish liability.”
It is too great an inferential leap to presume ownership or agency based merely on the visual observation of a company’s name or distinctive insignia on a vehicle. A plaintiff must “‘point to specific evidence giving rise to a triable issue’ on whether [the company] owned the [vehicle] that [caused the accident] . . . and whether the driver of the [vehicle] was an employee or agent of [the company] and was driving the vehicle in the course and scope of his employment.”
The district court did not err by entering summary judgment in favor of the trucking company. The plaintiffs’ evidence fell short of creating a material factual dispute that the trucking company was liable for the accident. The trucking company established that none of its trucks transporting a Dollar General trailer were near the plaintiffs’ accident. The Good Samaritan’s testimony that the plaintiffs were sideswiped by a truck with the trucking company logo didn’t establish that the company owned or operated the truck.
The plaintiffs argued that the trucking company was responsible because of the following:
- Its trucks are dark blue;
- They haul dollar general trailers; and
- They travel on interstate 75 in and around butts county after collecting trailers from the dollar general distribution center.
However, the plaintiffs’ speculation didn’t create a genuine issue of fact” as to the ownership of the truck. And the plaintiffs submitted no evidence from which to infer that a trucking company employee or agent drove the truck that caused the accident.
As such, the Court held that the plaintiffs failed to offer substantial evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact that the truck that injured the plaintiffs belonged to the trucking company or was driven by its employee or agent. Summary judgment in favor of the trucking company was affirmed. Pearson v. Doe, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 28578 (October 14, 2022).
Based on this ruling, it appears that you need to show more than a logo on a truck to prove that a big rig caused an accident. Our firm will thoroughly investigate your accident to be certain there’s evidence to support your personal injury claim.
If you have any questions about an accident in which you were involved, contact an experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer Atlanta residents trust every day: Tobin Injury Law. We can help answer your questions and guide you through the litigation process. We offer free no-obligation consultations to all prospective clients. Contact an Atlanta personal injury attorney by calling 404-JUSTICE (404-587-8423) or using our online contact form.