In a matter of first impression, the Indiana Supreme Court adopted the federal Savage rule in finding that a shipper was not liable for injuries sustained by a truck driver employed by a carrier, when he opened the doors of the trailer loaded by Celadon and a load of cargo fell on him.
Paul Michael Wilkes v. Celadon Group, Inc., et al., 19S-CT-564 was very recently decided and involved Plaintiff, Paul Wilkes, who was dispatched by his employer, Knight Transportation, to an Indiana Celadon warehouse to pick up a trailer filled with trays. The molded container trays were used to house oily engine parts. They were loaded in the trailer by a Celadon employee who had no formal training on how to distribute loads. He simply stacked the trays on top of each other and did not secure them together.
Wilkes looked inside the trailer and saw the stacks rising nearly to the top of its 13-foot ceiling. He then closed and locked the doors and drove the load to North Carolina. When he ultimately opened the trailer doors, some of the trays fell out and injured him.
In reaching its conclusion against Wilkes, the Indiana Supreme Court first decided to adopt the “longstanding federal common law rule” from United States v. Savage Truck Line, Inc., 209 F.2d 442, 445 (4th Cir. 1953). The Court determined that the policy and rationale of Savage were well-founded and that the rule was consistent with Indiana law. In essence, the Savage rule places the primary duty as to the safe loading of property upon the carrier.
After making that determination, the Court then applied the rule to the Wilkes case and found that Celadon was not liable for the alleged injuries. The Court wrote, “Having adopted the Savage rule, we apply it to this record and consider, first, whether Celadon assumed a legal duty of safe loading. We conclude it did.” The Court continued. “Second, we consider whether any alleged defect in loading was latent. On this record, we conclude it was not and should have been apparent to Wilkes through a reasonable inspection.” Supporting its conclusion, the Court noted that when Wilkes looked inside the trailer, he did not see anything “outlandish,” and did not argue that the lack of securing devices was not apparent. In addition, the designated evidence showed that Wilkes did not ask about the safety or security of the load, and Celadon did not make any assurances about the trays being properly loaded.
“Wilkes had five years’ experience operating commercial motor vehicles when he picked up the trailer at Celadon,” the Court determined. “Despite his lack of experience with these trays or this type of cargo, he did not ask Celadon if the load was secure…And, in fact, Wilkes admits that no one at Celadon told him the trays were properly loaded.”
This decision implies that Indiana will now adopt the federal common law principle that the primary duty as to the safe loading of property is upon the carrier and that the shipper will only be responsible for the safe loading of property if the defects of the loading are latent and undetectable by ordinary observation.
If you have any questions regarding this decision or its impact on Indiana businesses, please contact a member of Trucking and Commercial Transportation Practice Group.
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