Is a Truck Company Liable for a Driver’s Injuries from a Faulty Trailer Part?

Posted in truck accidents on December 23, 2021

Is a Truck Company Liable for a Driver’s Injuries from a Faulty Trailer Part?

Mark Moorehead sued Ryder Truck Rental for injuries he sustained when a metal rail used to secure cargo inside the trailer came loose from the wall, causing the cargo to fall on him.

Background

Moorehead worked as a truck driver for McLane Company, primarily in the delivery of food and supplies to restaurants. Ryder Trucks leased to McLane all the trucks and trailers Moorehead drove. In October 2017, he was working inside a trailer after he’d made a delivery for McLane.

McLane Company is a large supply chain transportation company that provides grocery and foodservice solutions for convenience stores, retail merchants, drug stores, and chain restaurants.

Moorehead claims that a metal rail used to strap or otherwise secure cargo inside the trailer—referred to by the parties as an “e-track”—came loose from the wall, causing the cargo to fall on him.

Moorehead said he was injured because Ryder didn’t maintain the e-track and was liable for his injuries. However, Ryder doesn’t install e-tracks in trailers or trucks: the truck and trailer manufacturers install them before delivery. They secure e-tracks to the walls of the trucks and trailers using pop rivets or screws, and there’s no regular maintenance schedule for e-tracks. Ryder just fixes when damaged. Nevertheless, Ryder had a contractual obligation with McLane to perform preventive maintenance inspections on all trucks and trailers (including the trailer here) every 90 days and (as part of that) to identify any necessary repairs.

Problems with E-tracks

A former Ryder employee testified that a problem with an e-track was indicated by a gap between the e-track and the wall, a missing rivet, or a rivet that is “loose and pulled out.” When an e-track became damaged, the ruck company typically sent the trailer for necessary repairs or Ryder repaired an e-track itself.

The trailer here was always in McLane’s possession, except when McLane brought it to Ryder for service. Pursuant to its contractual duty, Ryder performed a maintenance inspection on the trailer at issue on April 6, 2017 and July 26, 2017. After the July inspection, Ryder serviced the trailer on September 8th, September 26th, and October 5th of 2017. No evidence suggested the e-track was loose or malfunctioning at any of these times. Moorehead wasn’t sure if he ever saw or reported a problem with the e-track in the trailer at issue here.

While at McLane, Moorehead picked up trailers once they were already loaded, so there was no way for him to see whether the cargo was loaded or secured properly inside the trailer. Moorehead didn’t know how or why the e-track at issue came off the trailer wall or whether the e-track was still attached to the wall when he began his shift on October 20, 2017. He also didn’t know whether bolts or screws were missing or had begun to loosen before the incident.

United States District Judge Michael L. Brown held that the undisputed evidence showed the e-track failed and allowed the cargo to fall on him. But the record contained no evidence as to when that failure occurred, that Ryder should have seen such damage during a contractually required inspection, that anyone reported such a failure, or that it received notice of any issue with the e-track in Moorehead’s trailer before the incident at issue here.

Did the Truck Company Have a Duty?

Ryder argued Moorehead didn’t identify any statute or case law imposing a duty on it and he wasn’t a party to the contract between Ryder and McLane. In an attempt to identify a legal duty Ryder owed to him, Moorehead relied on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act and cited what he called the “Cargo Securement Rules,” which set requirements for securing cargo and minimum performance criteria for devices and systems. Moorehead argued that in the light of Ryder’s contractual obligation to perform preventive maintenance and the federal annual safety inspection, these regulations impose a duty on the truck company to ensure the e-track system functioned properly.

The Cargo Securement Rules Moorehead cited are regulations found in a portion of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations entitled “Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation,” which establish minimum standards for commercial motor vehicles.

Another part of the Cargo Securement Rules states minimum performance criteria for tie down assemblies and fastening devices like rope, chains, and strapping used inside a vehicle to secure cargo.

Judge Brown didn’t buy Moorehead’s argument. He explained that the Federal Motor Safety Administration has regulated the use of non-owned equipment by motor carriers to ensure that the motor carrier is fully responsible for the vehicle’s operation. A lessee of a leased trailer is required to “assume complete responsibility for the operation of the equipment for the duration of the lease,” the FMCSRs say.

As such, the regulations imposed no duty on Ryder so as to support the Plaintiff’s negligence claim. Because Ryder didn’t owe Moorehead a legal duty as a result of either its contract with McLane or the federal regulations cited by him, Ryder was entitled to summary judgment.

The Court granted Defendant’s amended motion for summary judgment. Moorehead v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 237340 (N.D. Ga. December 13, 2021).

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