Sixth Circuit overturns mis-application of Michigan law in wrongful death.
Nickie Donald died when a 28' steel beam loaded on an E.R. Express semi-trailer struck a bridge overpass and fell onto the highway, striking Donald's cab. Mai Roquemore, the Personal Representative of Donald's Estate sued the owner, driver and three other entities, including the companies that loaded the beam on the truck for negligence. The U.S. District Court dismissed the latter claims, holding that a Michigan law immunized everyone but the owner of the truck from liability. The Sixth Circuit repudiated this over-broad reading of a statute intended to immunize bridge authorities under similar circumstances.
The Companies who were sued in this case contracted to load the beam and then informed the transporter that the load was less than 13' 9" high, when in fact the height exceeded 13'10" and was too tall to pass under the Warren Avenue Bridge on I-94. The appellate court noted that a Michigan statute limited the height of highway loads to 13' 6" and stipulated that the owner of the load would be responsible for damages caused by a taller load striking a bridge, whether or not the bridge height was posted. The panel observed that a common law negligence action against the defendants was appropriate and that it was never intended that they benefit from the statute cited. While the statute may obligate the tractor-trailer owner to indemnify other negligent actors under the statutory language, the statute does not immunize them from innocent victims injured by their negligence.