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Kurt represented the Defendant in the Adams County Illinois personal injury case, Orr v. Triplett. The case revolved around a rear end automobile collision wherein Plaintiff stopped suddenly for an emergency vehicle traveling through an intersection. Defendant was unable to stop in time to avoid colliding with the rear of Plaintiff’s vehicle. Plaintiff claimed that he suffered bodily injury and incurred various medical bills due to his injuries.

Liability/comparative fault was contested. Plaintiff asked the jury find the Defendant 100% at fault and award $350,000.00 in damages. The jury returned a verdict dividing fault 50/50 between the Plaintiff and the Defendant. The jury awarded $15,000.00 in damages resulting in a verdict of $7,500.00 after reduction by 50% due to Plaintiff’s comparative fault.

Congrats to Kurt on obtaining another excellent result at jury trial!

Synopsis.

Federal trial court grants summary judgment in favor of freight broker finding driver of semi is not agent/employee, distinguishing the precedent set in Sperl v C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 408 Ill.App.3d 1051 (3rd Dist. 2011). .

Facts of Case.

This article is a discussion of the recent Northern Illinois District Court case Ying Ye v. Global Sunrise, 18-CV-1960 (N.D. Ill. Nove 2, 2021).

This wrongful death lawsuit revolves around a semi-tractor collision. Plaintiff’s decedent was operating a motorcycle that collided with a tractor-trailer operated by David Carty. Carty was an employee of Global Sunrise, Inc. (herein Sunrise). Plaintiff brought an action against Sunrise and Global Tranz Enterprises, Inc. (herein Tranz). Tranz was the freight broker that provided third party logistics services and acted as a freight broker in arranging transportation of cargo by third party motor carriers.

One of Tranz’s clients was U-Haul Moving and Storage. The Transportation Management System Agreement entered into between Tranz and U-Haul required all persons hired by Tranz to be employees or subcontractors of Tranz and required Tranz to remain responsible for the quality and timeliness of performance.

Tranz entered into a “Freight Transportation Broker-Motor Carrier Agreement” which defined its relationship with Sunrise.  The relationship was not an exclusive agreement.  Tranz was not restricted against tendering its freight to other carriers aside from Sunrise.  Likewise, Sunrise was not restricted against providing transportation service for other shippers or brokers.  Further, the agreement entered into between Sunrise and Tranz provided that Tranz was an independent contractor responsible for its own higher cost and expenses.  The independent contractor, being Sunrise, would have the sole and exclusive responsibility for the manner in which its employees and/or independent contractors performed the transportation services.  This agreement also limited Sunrise’s ability to subcontract freight being transported without Tranz’s prior written consent.

In October of 2017 Tranz brokered the load in question for U-Haul to Sunrise.  Tranz issued a rate confirmation indicating that the carrier, Sunrise, was responsible for relaying a two hour pick up and delivery ETA to the broker for scheduling purposes.  The rate confirmation discussed the deadline for delivery and provided a 15% reduction for late delivery.  Likewise, the rate confirmation document required the driver to call Tranz to be dispatched and the driver or Sunrise must call Tranz each day during transit to provide a tracking update and driver location report daily. 

Sunrise employed the driver, Carty, and provided Carty with the truck he drove and relayed his driving assignments.  Tranz could not fire Carty nor fine Carty directly for any reason though it could fine Sunrise.  Carty never saw the broker-motor carrier agreement nor did he receive a copy of the rate confirmation.  Carty did not communicate directly with Tranz at any time regarding the load at issue despite the rate confirmation’s requirements.  Tranz did not specify what route Carty was to take, what speed to travel nor where to refuel.  Carty was free to make his own decisions on those matters. 

Tranz filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that it could not be liable for Mr. Carty’s actions as a matter of law because it could not be vicariously liable for Carty’s actions. 

The trial court concluded that Global Tranz was correct in their Motion and found that the level of control Tranz was able to exercise over Sunrise’s operation was insufficient to support an agency relationship.  The court noted that the rate confirmation did allow Tranz to assert a degree of control over Sunrise’s operation, however, they noted that it fell short of the level of control that Illinois courts have required to support a finding of agency. 

The court cited examples such as requirements for carriers working exclusively for distributors, using distributors’ trailers with distributors’ logos, requiring drivers to wear distributors’ clothing and act in a manner that would encourage positive opinions about the distributor, etc.  The court further noted that Tranz did not impose any requirements on the driver on which route to take, how the driver should behave and that Tranz could not fire the driver in this case.  Likewise, the court cited that Sunrise did not pay Carty, provide Carty his truck or equipment nor communicate assignments directly to him.  Further, the Broker-Motor Carrier Agreement entered between Sunrise and Tranz referred to Sunrise as an independent contractor.

The court distinguished the seminal case of Sperl v. C.H. Robertson Worldwide, Inc., 408 Ill.App.3d 1051 (3rd Dist. 2011) noting that in that particular case, the broker exercised a much higher degree of control over the driver. In fact, the broker imposed a strict time schedule that required the driver to break federal regulations governing maximum driving time, requiring consistent communication and compelled constant monitoring of the temperature of the load, all of which was enforced by a series of fines for non-compliance. Further, the broker in Sperl dispatched and paid the driver directly.

Practical effect of case.

This case is a federal trial court decision with little procedural value; in fact, it may be on appeal at this moment; however, the case provides a good roadmap for defending agency claims, especially in a commercial trucking situation. To successfully contest an agency/master or respondeat superior cause of action, the defense needs to establish as many facts as possible related to the elements that determine the existence of an agency relationship. Those elements include: the right to control the manner of work performance, nature of work performed in relation to the general business of the employer, the right to discharge, the method of payment, the provision of necessary tools, materials, and equipment, whether taxes are deducted from the payment and the level of skill required. None of the factors alone is determinative.

Defense attorneys, claims attorneys and claims adjusters should take all action to investigate and determine facts related to the above agency factors. They should gather all evidence supporting or opposing the existence of an agency relationship. If the majority evidence supports the existence of an agency relationship, then early resolution via a dispositive motion is unlikely and pursuing a reasonable negotiated settlement might be the wiser course than denial of a claim or continued litigation. Alternatively, if the majority of the evidence and factors show that there was no agency relationship, then the defense may be successful in directing this case toward a dispositive motion in the early outset of litigation.

By: Jason G. Schutte

 

Jason represented a demolition contractor who won the bid for the demolition of certain properties related to the construction of the new Adams County Jail. The contractor (the plaintiff) discovered, through the demolition process, that the properties to be demolished contained many unforeseen conditions and other conditions that were not properly documented in the project manual/bid documents. The contractor requested additional compensation for the extra work required to address these conditions; however, Adams County, the defendant, refused to pay for the extra work after the work was completed. Adams County’s refusal to pay fair compensation to the plaintiff contractor forced the contractor to file suit against the County. The jury awarded a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on all counts after a three day jury trial.

By: Jason G. Schutte

Trucking, transportation and logistics are becoming an increasingly complex industry. A product of this complexity is the increasing presence of freight brokers. These entities act as middlemen between shippers (persons or companies seeking to have freight moved) and carriers (trucking companies).

Freight brokers facilitate communication between the shipping and trucking companies to arrange the transportation of freight from the loading dock to the destination. Brokers generally do not take possession of the freight; rather, they ensure that the freight transfer goes smoothly between carriers and shippers, and that freight arrives safely, on time. 

Personal injury cases involving any trucking company or related entity are complex. Moreover, unique questions of fact arise when a motor vehicle collision occurs involving a carrier/trucking company transporting a load arranged by a freight broker. It is imperative that freight brokers and parties involved in a car accident hire attorneys experienced in transportation law.

The attorneys at Koepke, Hiltabrand & Schutte are very knowledgeable and experienced in trucking and transportation law, including the liability exposures of freight brokers under Illinois law. Please contact us to discuss your case.

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