Trucking Accident Leaves Driver in a Ditch when it Comes to Lack of Evidence

vehicle_cargo_industry_1562094-1024x785Licensed and professional commercial truck drivers usually carry heavy materials on their journey. Keeping these materials secured for any type of roadway issue is paramount. But what happens when these large trucks roll over and you think the weight shift was due to faulty or improper packaging? The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals addresses the question as to whether there is enough evidence to bring a claim for a packaging malfunction that leaves you injured.

On January 17, 2014, Danny Barefoot exited the highway in his vehicle in Shreveport, Louisiana, lost control of his eighteen-wheeler truck, and rolled over. The exit rant was looped, and as he exited, the lumber he was carrying shifted, causing Barefoot to crash. Barefoot filed suit against Weyerhaeuser, claiming the company did not package the joists properly, causing the bands to break and the lumber to shift, which led to the truck rolling over.

Weyerhaeuser attempted to move for summary judgment. When a defendant moves for summary judgment, the plaintiff must make a positive showing of facts to support their claim. See La. R.S. 9:2800.6(A). In this instance, Barefoot would have to prove with enough evidence that Weyerhaeuser caused his injury from the truck rolling over.

To prove that Weyerhaeuser was, in fact, responsible, Barefoot presented the testimony of an accident reconstruction expert, A. J. McPhate. He explained that it was possible the bands could have broken, causing the joists to shift and the truck to roll over. Based on his testimony and sparse findings through software programs and accident reports, the lower district court ruled in favor of Weyerhaeuser and dismissed the case. Barefoot then appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, believing the district court erred in denying his motion to recover costs from Weyerhaeuser.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the question as to whether the testimony by McPhate was sufficient to satisfy the causation element between Weyerhaeuser’s actions and the injury that Barefoot suffered. The appellate court explained that Barefoot must provide the court with enough evidence that showed the bands broke and the broken bands could have caused the truck to roll over.

Barefoot relied on McPhate’s testimony, claiming the broken bands were the cause of the crash. The court explained that this was insufficient evidence because McPhate admitted that he did not know if any band broke. Instead of relying on analysis of the scene, he merely depended on the testimony of a witness.

The court noted that McPhate’s testimony helped determine whether broken bands could or did cause the accident. Still, it offers no support in determining if the bands broke and caused the accident. Although Barefoot correctly stated the circumstances are for a jury to decide if the bands broke, the court disagreed because a jury still must be presented with some evidence the event occurred. For a claim to support enough evidence, it cannot be conclusory but rather provide enough proof of actual causation between the bands breaking and the truck rolling over.

The appellate court agreed with the lower district court that Barefoot did not bring enough evidence the bands broke. Instead, McPhate’s testimony only presented that it was a possibility. The court held that Barefoot failed to create a genuine issue of material fact and granted Weyerhaeuser’s motion for summary judgment.

Having enough facts to bring a lawsuit is something the justice system is keen on. You can’t just sue anyone for anything and hope to win when you lack evidence to support your claim. A good lawyer will work hard to find essential evidence to support and further advise you if such evidence does not exist.


Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer Brianna Saroli

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