The Subtleties of Transportation Contracts
Derek Bush and Josef B. Hess
Navigating the winding course of a complex legal matter sometimes involves a few twists and turns. But it’s precisely those moments that make us so drive to excel in this profession.
In this particular recent matter, Rissman attorneys Derek Bush and Josef Hess of our Jacksonville office obtained summary judgment in a case involving a transportation company.
The case arose from a tractor-trailer collision in the area. The plaintiff alleged he sustained injuries when a tractor-trailer rear-ended his vehicle. He subsequently underwent multiple spinal surgeries and accumulated a host of pricy medical bills.
The tractor-trailer was driven by an employee of a company that identified itself as the “motor carrier” for the load. The load had been assigned to the company by another entity, the defense, which identified itself as the “broker” for the load. The plaintiff disputed both of these labels and argued that the defense was the motor carrier and the third-party transport company involved in the collision was its agent.
The defense had entered into a contract to transport goods through a variety of means (rail, road, and brokering/subcontracting). As part of this contract, the defense accepted a load and then arranged the transport of the goods with the third-party transport company under its federal brokerage authority.
The plaintiff’s expert provided two opinions on the matter: (1) that the defense was operating as the motor carrier, not the broker, with respect to the load being delivered, and (2) the defense was the “statutory employer” of both the third-party transport company and the employee involved in the collision.
The defense argued that the provided expert’s opinions couldn’t be supported by any scientific, technical principle, or methodology as required under the Daubert standard, and that his opinions were solely based on his own subjective interpretation of the contract. The trial court agreed and suggested that the opinions didn’t assist the jury in determining any issues in this case.
The trial court then considered the defense’s motion for summary judgment based on the deposition testimony and evidence to date. The trial court ultimately held there was no genuine factual dispute as to whether the defense was vicariously liable for the third-party transport company or its employee’s conduct, and that the defense didn’t have a right to control the means and manner for how they conducted their services as a motor carrier.
This case had initially been handled by a single firm for the defense, but after several early discovery motions and rulings, the defense was divided up and our team was assigned to represent the defense. A huge thanks to our colleague Katie Gannon who assisted in drafting the motions and formation of the arguments that ultimately resulted in this monumental victory.