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The trucking industry is a vital part of our nation’s economy. Also, it is a complex industry involving numerous different entities including shippers of freight, freight brokers, logistics companies, trucking lines/companies and owner operators. The nature and extent of the business relationships between these entities is a common legal question that regularly arises in trucking lawsuits, especially those involving personal injury.

The most common question presented by these cases is whether a particular person/entity, commonly the owner or driver of the truck, is an agent of a larger trucking company or freight broker. Plaintiffs often want to establish that the person or entity in control of the truck at the time of an accident is the agent or employee of a larger trucking company, freight broker or logistics company.

Plaintiffs want to establish this because, by doing so, they can argue that the larger company is liable for the actions of the person/entity actually in control of the truck at the time of the accident. Generally, it is in the best interest of the plaintiff to establish liability against a company that may have “deeper pockets” than the actual driver of a truck or a smaller trucking company. Under Illinois law, this is established by pursuing a Respondeat Superior cause of action.

Under Respondeat Superior a principal (trucking company, logistics company, etc) may be liable for the tortious (wrongful) actions of its agent. It is the equivalent of a master/servant relationship. If plaintiff can prove that an alleged principal/agency relationship existed at the time of the accident, then the principal will be liable to the same extent as the agent for the agent’s actions. Alternatively, if an alleged principal (trucking company, logistics company, etc) can establish that the owner or driver of the truck was an independent contractor, then the alleged principal may be able to escape any liability for the negligent actions of the driver.

The unique relationships created between the various entities create numerous questions of fact that must be investigated to defend against a Respondeat Superior claim and to establish if an independent contractor relationship exists. These considerations include the right of the principal to control the agent, method of payment, provision of necessary tools or materials and deduction of income tax, amongst others.

It is imperative for parties or potential parties to a trucking lawsuit have experienced counsel to investigate these claims. The attorneys at Koepke, Hiltabrand and Schutte are experienced in investigation and litigation of trucking and liability claims, along with the unique questions of law they present. Please contact us to discuss your case or any concerns you may have related to transportation liability.

 

By Jason G. Schutte

Under Illinois law, interstate carriers operating under an Interstate Commerce Commission Number (Motor Carrier Number) and displaying a company name on a truck are vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their drivers. A purpose of the Interstate Commerce Act is to protect persons injured by semi-trucks operated on public roadways by eliminating agency and scope of employment defenses in determining liability in personal injury suits caused by trucking accidents. This cause of action implements this goal.

This is done by placing full vicarious liability on the carrier for the negligent operations of its vehicles. Not all situations will qualify as a logo liability case. A plaintiff must prove that the operator of the truck was operating the truck through a lease agreement, with the carrier’s name and licensing number displayed on the side of the truck, hence “logo” liability. If the driver is not leasing the vehicle or is not operating under the carrier’s operating authority, then this cause of action should not apply.

Careful investigation must be taken into the contractual agreements entered into between the driver of the truck and the carrier/broker to determine if a valid logo liability claim might exist. If a plaintiff cannot establish logo liability, then the carrier/broker can assert defenses that the driver was an independent contractor, insulating the carrier/broker from liability in trucking claims.

Contact our attorneys with any questions you may have regarding trucking liability claims.

By Jason G. Schutte

 

The trucking industry is a highly regulated and demanding business area. Freight brokers, transportation/trucking companies and owner operators are especially at risk of becoming involved in personal injury or casualty lawsuits due to the demands of their industry. Trucking litigation presents unique legal questions including agency, joint venture, logo liability, equipment maintenance and compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations.

It is imperative that trucking companies facing liability for personal injury and casualty claims retain counsel with experience in trucking litigation to address the unique issues of these cases. The attorneys at Koepke, Hiltabrand & Schutte have extensive knowledge and experience litigating cases that involve the unique questions of law facing commercial transportation and trucking companies within the State of Illinois.

Please contact us to discuss your case.

By Jason G. Schutte

Synopsis.

Appellate court provides excellent discussion of provocation under the Illinois Animal Control Act in affirming defense verdict in dog bite personal injury claim in Claffey v. Huntley, 2021 IL App (1st) 191938.

Facts of Case.

Plaintiff filed suit against defendants seeking recovery under the Illinois Animal Control Act.[1] Plaintiff appealed defense verdict from jury trial.

Plaintiff was a mailman for the United States Post office at the time of the bite.[2] Plaintiff was bitten on his right hand as he was delivering mail to defendants’ home. He was aware that the defendants’ had two dogs and heard one barking on the day of the bite. The door to defendants’ home had a mail slot in it, with an outer and inner flap. Plaintiff reached into the slot to push open the inner flap to prevent the flap from damaging the mail he was delivering. Plaintiff was bitten by one of defendants’ dogs on his right hand as he pushed mail into the slot. [3]

Plaintiff testified that defendants’ dogs would sometimes become excited when he delivered mail to the home. He would bundle the defendants’ mail and place it between their screen door and front door when he knew the dogs were present. He also testified that he could insert mail inside the slot without placing his hand inside the house to hold the inner flap open and had done so in the past.[4]

Provocation of the dog was a major issue at trial. The trial court denied plaintiff’s Motion for Directed Verdict, which argued there was no evidence of provocation. The jurors were instructed on the definition of provocation and subsequently returned a verdict for the defendants.[5]

Appellate court analysis.

In order for the plaintiff to recover under the Animal Control Act (herein Act), he must prove:

  1. Injury caused by the defendants’ dogs;
  2. Lack of provocation of the dog;
  3. That he was conducting himself in a peaceable manner;
  4. That he was in a place where he had the legal right to be.[6]

Plaintiff argued that placing his hand inside the mail slot could not be considered provocation as a matter of law.[7] The Act itself does not define provocation.[8] The focus of provocation findings is from the dog’s perspective.[9]

The court in Claffey noted that Claffey had breached an enclosure by reaching through the mail slot. Claffey would have been protected from the dogs and not come into contact with them, had he not reached through the slot. Further, the court found it pertinent that the interior flap was spring loaded, requiring Claffey to take the deliberate action of pushing it open and reaching into the house.[10] Claffey’s actions were not mere external stimulus to the dogs, rather, his actions introduced stimulus into the dog’s separate environment that exposed him to their reaction.[11]

The Claffey court analogized the facts of this case to a situation where a person is bitten when reaching into a fence or enclosure when they know or should know that a dog may be confined therein. The Claffey court noted that numerous courts have found that such action barred recovery from resulting injuries in such cases.[12]

A reasonable jury could find that a normal dog would perceive a hand entering its enclosed environment to be an intrusion and react by biting. Hence, a reasonable jury could find that the dog in this case was provoked. [13]

The court further recognized that plaintiff’s fault in causing the provocation was a relevant consideration. Plaintiff’s actions undermined measures that provided protection to him from the subject animals, i.e., the door. [14] Further, the legislative intent behind Section 16 of the Act, which provides the avenue for recovery, is to protect people who may not have any way of avoiding or knowing the dangers provided by the animal.[15]

Perhaps the most interesting discussion from this case is the court’s description of the actions of the owner and dog prior to the plaintiff opening the mail slot, “the Huntleys secured their dog against contact with outsiders by keeping it inside their home. ‘Securing dogs is what is expected of a dog owner – it protects the dogs and it protects the public.’ [citation] But by breaching that security, Claffey encroached on the dog’s isolated environment and exposed himself to risk of harm.”[16] In essence, Claffey had to go to the dog in order to be bitten.[17]

Practical effect of case.

This case helps clarify the concept of provocation of an animal under the Act. Provocation under the Act is broader than simply beating or taunting an animal. Rather, it encompasses a full evaluation of the facts underlying an injury caused by an animal. Relevant facts include the location of the dog, the location of the plaintiff, plaintiff’s knowledge of the risk posed by the animal, the plaintiff’s actions resulting in the injury, specifically exposing themselves to the animal, and the proportionality of the animal’s response to the stimulus giving rise to the provocation defense.

Generally, whether provocation exists will be a question of fact for the jury. Attorneys and claims adjusters should pay special attention to the underlying facts of the case including those described in the preceding paragraph to determine whether a provocation defense exists and the viability of any such defense as trial. If a jury is convinced that provocation occurred, then a defense may likely be the result of the jury’s verdict.

 

[1] 510 ILCS 5/16;

[2] Claffey v. Huntley, 2021 IL App(1st) 191938, ¶3;

[3] Claffey at ¶3;

[4] Claffey at ¶5;

[5] Claffey at ¶¶8-10;

[6] Claffey at ¶15, internal citation omitted;

[7] Claffey at ¶16;

[8] Claffey at ¶19;

[9] Claffey at ¶27;

[10] Claffey at ¶20;

[11] Claffey at ¶21;

[12] Claffey at ¶22;

[13] Claffey at ¶27;

[14] Claffey at ¶26;

[15] Claffey at ¶26.

[16] Claffey at ¶27, internal citation omitted;

[17] Claffey at ¶27

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