Shipper and broker off the hook in Illinois vicarious liability case

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 1/23/2019

A Texas brokerage firm and the company that hired the firm to ship its product are off the hook in a crash lawsuit. An Illinois appellate court ruled that the companies are not to be held responsible via negligence, also known as vicarious liability.

On Jan. 17, the Second District appellate court in Illinois agreed with a lower court’s ruling that M&G Truck Brokerage and Texana Pickle Producers were not negligently responsible for a crash that involved the trucking company hired for Texana’s shipment.

Brettman v. M&G Truck Brokerage and Texana Pickle Producers

Texana Pickle Producers grows cucumbers in Texas and sells to various processing plants across the United States, including Kraft-owned Claussen Pickle Co. in Woodstock, Ill. Texana does not own any trucks, nor does it possess a DOT number or motor-carrier authority. The company relies on brokers to set up shipments.

In August 2013, Texana signed a contract with Kraft/Claussen to supply cucumbers. Throughout the contract, Texana used 10 brokers to secure 100 different carriers to haul cucumbers, according to court documents. One of those brokers was M&G, a brokerage with a list of 3,000 carriers across the country.

In March 2014, M&G chose E.G.G. Trucking of Raymondville, Texas, to haul one of the loads. E.G.G. had worked with M&G for seven years at the time, hauling as much as 10 loads per month without any issues. The trucking company hired Isreal Vela to drive the truck. Vela had been working for E.G.G. for 10 years.

About 25 miles from the Kraft/Claussen plant after delivery, Vela was driving straight on Route 47 in Huntley, Ill., at the posted speed limit of 45 mph. Gina Brettman was turning left with a green arrow.

According to court documents, the intersection was under construction. Vela had stated that the permanent traffic signals were covered, so he assumed there were no traffic controls for drivers traveling in his direction. However, he suddenly saw a temporary traffic signal hanging over the intersection with a red light. Unable to stop in time, Vela crashed into Brettman, who sustained severe injuries as a result.

In the lawsuit filed by Brettman, several entities were named as defendants. In addition to Vela, E.G.G., M&G and Kraft/Claussen, Brettman also sued various construction companies responsible for the traffic controls. Kraft/Claussen and several construction companies have already reached a settlement agreement. However, M&G and Texana argued they are in no way responsible.

Arguing vicarious liability, Brettman claims that E.G.G. was an agent of M&G because the brokerage company “imposed rules on driver conduct, thereby exercising a requisite degree of control to establish a principal-agent relationship.” The same claim was made against Texana.

Furthermore, Brettman claims negligent hiring on the part of M&G. Plaintiffs argue that M&G should have known that E.G.G. was an unrated motor carrier and that Vela had a history of forging timesheets. M&G also negligently failed to supervise E.G.G. during the delivery. Again, the same allegations were made against Texana.

Principal-agent relationship ends at delivery

While other defendants were stating their case in the 27-count complaint, M&G and Texana motioned to have the four negligence charges against them dropped. That motion was granted by the trial court and recently affirmed with an appellate court.

Regarding M&G, the courts found that the agency relationship with the trucking company was severed once the driver completed the delivery. After the delivery, M&G had no control over Vela. Even if the driver had been fatigued as a result of his duties under M&G, the brokerage company could not tell him to stop driving after the shipment has been delivered, relieving M&G of any agency or responsibility.

As to the two negligent hiring counts against both companies, the same logic used in the vicarious liability count was used. Essentially, it was whether or not E.G.G. was fit to be hired is irrelevant considering the crash occurred after the job was completed.

The vicarious liability count against Texana was dropped by the plaintiff during oral arguments, conceding there is no evidence to support that claim.

Counts against E.G.G. are still pending.

Related stories:

Trucking company on hook for $14 million in vicarious liability case




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