DENVER — A federal judge in Michigan has ruled in favor of a trucking firm and a private security agency by striking down a trucker’s lawsuit that alleged negligence before his trailer exploded.
U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy on Dec. 6 threw out claims against Quality Carriers and G4S Secure Solutions, saying the undisputed facts of the case can’t show that either company was liable for his injuries.
A third defendant, Marathon Petroleum Co. LP, did not file a motion for summary judgment and remains involved in the suit.
According to the suit, Stewart, a truck driver, was an independent contractor for Quality Carriers, which in turn was hired by Marathon to transport chemicals in 2015 from its Detroit facility to Texas.
Marathon had also hired G4S as security for the facility, according to a report on Law360.
“Before the chemicals were to be loaded into Stewart’s truck, he was instructed by QC to have his truck prepared with a caustic wash, but because of an equipment glitch, the wrong substance was used,” Law360 reported.
“After Stewart left the facility, the substance reacted with the chemical Stewart was hired to haul, causing the explosion.”
Stewart had made 11 claims against G4S, alleging that it negligently allowed the wrong chemical to be loaded and otherwise failed to prevent him from leaving the plant with the compromised truck, but Murphy said the facts don’t support any of his claims.
Murphy wrote that G4S was not in charge of the chemicals or their distribution but was hired instead to provide perimeter security and guard against terrorist and other attacks, while Marathon had the authority and expertise over the chemicals being loaded.
While G4S personnel were issued chemical detectors by Marathon, Stewart’s allegation that they failed to report that the detectors issued an alert is contradicted by the record evidence, which shows that G4S personnel did indeed report the alert to Marathon, and alerted both Marathon and Stewart about an “abnormal smell” coming from the truck, which was all G4S was expected to do.
“G4S did not select the tanker. G4S did not load the tanker,” Murphy wrote. “G4S did not fail to notify Plaintiff of the suspicious sounds and smells emanating from the tanker. G4S did not clear the tanker to leave the refinery, and G4S was never designated as the point of contact once the tanker left the refinery.”
Continuing to Quality Carriers’s separate motion for summary judgment, Murphy said its conduct is even further removed from the cause of Stewart’s injuries, as its first contact with the situation was when Stewart called the company after finding a leak, which he described as “not too bad at first” after leaving the facility.
QC could not have foreseen any problems with the tanker, the judge wrote, as it believed the tanker had been cleaned with the correct chemical. In addition, because company personnel was not near Stewart, there was little it could directly do to prevent injury, according to the order.
The judge noted further that Quality Carriers had instructed Stewart to contact an emergency responder, and that responder told him to move away from the tanker after he reported the leak, but Stewart remained in the cab to make phone calls, and thus was injured when the truck exploded.
“Although QC did have a safety relationship with Plaintiff that prompted the Plaintiff’s phone call to QC, QC’s conduct could have only helped Plaintiff if he had followed the instructions of the emergency response personnel,” Murphy wrote. “Plaintiff’s choice to stay near the tanker was his own, and QC cannot be blamed for the injuries that resulted from it.”
The judge referred the remainder of Stewart’s claims, which are against Marathon, to a mediator because of the ongoing delay of in-person jury trials resulting from COVID-19.
Russell W. Porritt II of Ward Anderson, representing Quality Carriers, told Law360 that the company did not belong in the case and that “justice was done.” He added that Stewart did not complain of an injury at the scene of the explosion and returned to work full time years ago.
Law360.com contributed to this report.
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