Man crushed by machinery cannot sue company that loaded it on truck, but defendant driver can claim their fault as defense?
Two members of the Court of Appeals issued a disturbing opinion arising out of the Macomb County Neill v. Steel Master Transfer case. Neill's husband was crushed when an improperly-loaded 800 pound piece of machinery fell from a tractor-trailer and crushed him. A Steel Master employee had loaded the machinery on the trailer, and the Defendant driver hired by Rozafa Transort had tied it down. Under federal rules adopted by the Michigan courts, a commercial transport driver has "primary responsibility" for the safe loading of cargo, and on this basis, the Court held that Steel Master owed no duty to Neill and should be dismissed from the case.
Somewhat incomprehensibly, however, the two Judges who issued the majority opinion went on to hold that Rozafa Transport and its driver should be allowed to pass blame for the incident on to Steel Master in defending Neill's widow's claim, thereby potentially avoiding responsibility for the incident. As the dissenter pointed out, it was logically indefensible to hold that Steel Master was legally without fault in the loading process and then allow the carrier to evade responsibility by claiming Steel Master fault. In a world governed by a result-oriented, insurance- and Chamber of Commerce-dominated judiciary, however, this kind of decision making is now common place.
Lost in the verbal gymnastics that allowed such a patently unfair result is the further public policy question of why Steel Master should be insulated from responsibility for negligently loading its machinery on the semi-tractor to begin with. Certainly the common carrier should bear responsibility for taking to the roads with an improperly secured load, but why should the entity that put the public in danger by its actions not face legal consequences as well? What purpose is served by not requiring manufacturers to act safely in loading their product for shipment (assuming that they actually load the product as Steel Master did in this case).