Recent Decision Has Possible Far-Reaching Consequences for Trucking Litigation and Carriers

Eric Winder Sella highlights a recent case that can have far-reaching consequences for trucking litigation and national and regional carriers.

We previously noted two decisions from the United States District Courts for the Western and Middle Districts of Louisiana, Dennis v. Collins and Wilcox v. Harco International Insurance, which resulted in summary judgment for employers following stipulations to course and scope of employment for the employee-tortfeasor. The two federal courts, making presumptions based on Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins as to what Louisiana’s Supreme Court would hold, ruled that a plaintiff cannot simultaneously pursue both (1) a negligence cause of action against an employee for which the employer is vicariously liable and (2) a direct negligent training and supervision cause of action against the employer when the employer stipulates that the employee was in the course and scope of employment when he committed the alleged negligence.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently joined its sister courts in Wright v. National Interstate Insurance Co., 2017 WL 5157537 (E.D. La. 2017). The court was persuaded by the reasoning in Dennis, that if the jury determines that the driver was negligent, then the employer is vicariously liable for his actions. That is, the driver’s negligence includes any negligence of the employer in training or supervision. And if the driver was not negligent, then no amount of negligence on the part of the employer in training and supervising him could have been the cause-in-fact or legal cause of the collision and injuries. As a result, the federal courts of Louisiana are all in accord.

The Consequences for Trucking Litigation

This can have far-reaching consequences in trucking litigation, where national and regional carriers are regularly accused of negligent training and supervision, allegations which often lead to burdensome discovery requests for FMCSA accident registers, driver guidelines, discipline procedures, and company accident investigation policies, followed by corporate depositions. All of this, in turn, can result in drivers and corporate defendants being embarrassed at trial or tagged with excessive judgments. With these federal court rulings, discovery may be limited to relevant information regarding the employee-driver’s negligence, that is, the negligence of an individual, not a large corporation.