Aragon v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, et al., 2013 WL 593837 (E.D. Mo. 2013)

Experienced driver Aragon saw that freight loaded by shipper Wal-Mart hadn’t been strapped or loadlocked as would be required by contractual carrier guidelines. He opened one of the trailer doors, and didn’t see a problem. Later on at delivery, he opened both doors, and the unsecured cargo fell out onto his leg. The injured driver sued Wal-Mart and another involved entity in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri to recover for his resulting injuries. The defendants moved to dismiss.

Generally, per 49 CFR §392.9, carriers have a nondelegable duty to ensure their loads are safely secured. However, per the “Savage Rule” (based on the Fourth Circuit’s 1963 decision in U.S. v. Savage Truck Line, Inc.), shippers can be liable for harm caused by inadequately secured cargo if the defective securement was latent, i.e., not reasonably detectable by the carrier. The driver said his glance into the trailer, which at other times was sealed, couldn’t reveal unstable loading. But he conceded he saw the securement wasn’t in compliance with contractual requirements. The driver argued that the visible absence of straps doesn’t itself mean inadequate loading, but unfortunately, he didn’t offer any evidence of latently improper stowage (other than his self-serving declaration) on which a jury could conclude that. Summary judgment was granted accordingly. Fact-intensive issues like this usually go to a jury, but on summary judgment, you first have to sell a case that the judge finds reasonable.