Transportation Broker Not Liable Under Carmack Amendment for Injuries Caused by Truck Driver

By: Christopher J. Hoare, Esq.

In January of 2014, in the case of Kavulak v. Transportation Solutions Group, et al., the U.S.D.C.W.D.N.Y. found that the estate of a deceased driver whose car was struck by an independent owner-operator had no claim against the transportation broker that dispatched the trip in question under the Carmack Amendment.  This is positive news for transportation brokers and their liability insurance providers.

This case involves a fatal truck/car collision.  The decedent was the driver of an automobile struck by the insured tractor trailer. The operator of the tractor trailer had swerved to avoid a dump truck that had stopped abruptly when a motorist ahead stopped for a red light. In an effort to avoid striking the dump truck, the insured tractor trailer swerved into the adjoining lane striking the decedent’s vehicle.

Plaintiff’s Estate sued the owner of the truck as well as the transportation broker who initiated the shipping of the trailer involved in the accident.  The estate plaintiff sued both the truck owner as well as the broker for the injuries caused to the decedent.  The transport broker moved for summary judgment.  The court granted summary judgment for the transport broker finding that the Carmack Amendment controlled and the decedent lacked standing to bring suit under Carmack Amendment.

The Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. Sec. 14706(a)(1) was passed in the late 1800’s to govern the rights of shippers of goods by motor carrier.  Under the Carmack Amendment, a motor carrier may be held liable for property damage to a shipment by “the person entitled to recover under the receipt or bill of lading.”  The first shipper of goods by motor carrier is responsible if those goods are subsequently damaged in transit by subsequent shippers.

The district court found as a matter of law that the Carmack Amendment imparts rights of recourse only to the owner of property being shipped by motor freight, not to third persons involved in an auto accident with the truck in which the only claims involve bodily injuries.   The court noted that the clear language of the Carmack Amendment never was meant to govern personal injuries to third parties caused by the motor carrier.  In addition, the court observed that the decedent had no standing under the Carmack Amendment in order to bring suit against the tractor trailer since the Carmack Amendment only defines duties between the owners of goods and the shippers by motor freight.

Given its influence, always include the Carmack Amendment as an affirmative defense in any and all Answers to any personal injury suits arising from truck/car accidents.