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Goodman v. Dillon Transportation, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 9, 2017

Paul Goodman and Linda Goodman, Plaintiffs,
Dillon Transportation, LLC, Defendant.

          R. Steven Whalen U.S. Magistrate Judge


          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs filed this negligence suit on April 11, 2014. On October 15, 2015, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #22]. The parties timely briefed the motion [23, 24] and a hearing was held on April 20, 2016. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court took the motion under advisement. During the hearing, Plaintiffs' counsel asked for, and was granted, permission to provide the Court with a supplement to the report prepared by Scott Turner. Plaintiffs filed Turner's Supplemental Affidavit [27] on May 17, 2016.

         The Court issued an Order [28] on June 9, 2016 in which it denied Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Notwithstanding the denial, the Court inadvertently included language in its Order that may be confusing to the parties. This Amended Order serves to clarify the Court's June 9, 2016 Order [28].

         For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [22] is, once again, DENIED.

         Factual Background

         Defendant Dillon Transportation, LLC is a transportation company with a fleet of tractors and trailers. Its fleet includes low-boy trailers, which are trailers that ride lower to the ground than others. Low-boy trailers are normally too low to be loaded or unloaded from a dock. Accordingly, they are manufactured to include airbags that can be inflated to raise them to the height of a dock. The inflation of the airbags causes steel legs to lower and rest upon the axle. The control for a lowboy trailer's airbag system consists of a knob that is pulled to inflate the airbags and pushed to deflate them. The knob is located on the trailer's exterior, on the middle of the driver's side.

         Defendant's drivers are trained at truck driving school, on the job, and through Defendant. Their training includes education on how to operate low-boy trailers. The only driver relevant to this case, Miguel Urjiles, testified that he received about 30 minutes of training on the operation of low-boy trailers when hired in 2004. He testified that he received no further training on their operation before the incident at issue in this case. Plaintiffs' expert, Scott Turner, opined that the inflation system is simple and that adequate training on it could be completed within fifteen to thirty minutes.

         Plaintiff Paul Goodman was working for Defendant on April 26, 2012. On that date, he used a forklift to unload a low-boy trailer driven by Urjiles. To prepare the trailer for unloading, Urjiles pulled the knob to inflate the trailer's airbags. He testified that he watched the inflation process from the side of the trailer, saw the legs come to rest upon the axle, and heard the sound of rushing air that the system makes when the legs fall into position. After the airbags inflated, Mr. Goodman began unloading the trailer with his forklift. He drove the forklift into and out of the trailer several times without incident. However, when he began driving it into the trailer another time, the trailer suddenly fell a distance of about one foot. Mr. Goodman was injured.

         Mr. Goodman testified that he did not know whether Urjiles did anything to cause the fall. He further testified that Urjiles' actions that day were no different from his actions on previous days when he had elevated the same trailer. A third employee, Ashley Ousterhoust, was also in the vicinity of the trailer at the time of the incident. She testified that she did not know why the trailer fell or whether Urjiles did anything to cause the fall.

         Urjiles took the trailer to a mechanic the same day. The mechanic elevated the trailer several times in Urjiles' presence, without incident. The mechanic reported to Defendant that nothing appeared to be wrong with the trailer. There is no evidence that the trailer ever malfunctioned in a similar way again, or that it had done so before the incident that injured Mr. Goodman.

         Standard of Review

         On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine whether “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party has the burden of establishing that there are no genuine issues of material fact, which may be accomplished by demonstrating that the nonmoving party lacks evidence to support an essential element of its case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The Court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The nonmoving party “may not avoid a properly supported motion for summary judgment by ...

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