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No Strict Liability for Motor Carriers Under the FMCSR

Recently, the Southern District of Ohio clarified that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”) do not require that a commercial motor carrier be held liable for an employee’s conduct, whether or not the employee was at fault or acted negligently.  Baker v. Swift Transp. Co. of Arizona, LLC, No. 2:17-cv-909, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75961, at *8 (S.D. Ohio May 4, 2018). In Baker, the plaintiff sued the employer of a truck driver for injuries stemming from an accident allegedly caused by the truck driver. Among his claims, the plaintiff alleged that the employer was liable under vicarious liability and strict liability. The trucking company moved to dismiss the strict liability claim as being duplicative of the vicarious liability claim. The Court agreed with the defendant trucking company and held that, to the extent the plaintiff argued that the trucking company was liable under vicarious liability, the strict liability claim is duplicative and will be dismissed. The Court found that plaintiff had not alleged any facts that operating a trucking company is an abnormally dangerous activity, creating an absolute duty to make something safe. In so holding, the Court found that the FMCSRs do not mention strict liability or mandate that a carrier be held liable for an employee's conduct irrespective of whether the employee acted negligently or was otherwise at fault.” See Greene v. Toyota Motor Corp., No. 3:11-cv-207, 2014 WL 12575959, at *4 n.4 (N.D. Tex. May 5, 2014); Harris v. MVT Servs., Inc., No. 1:06CV251, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65709, 2007 WL 2609780, at *1 (S.D. Miss. Sept. 5, 2007).
As plaintiff attorneys are becoming ever-more creative in transportation accident cases, we have seen strict liability claims in addition to vicarious liability claims in recent years. Although the decision in Baker will not lead to a dismissal of the entire case, it can at least help narrow the potential exposure.

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