Duty to Avoid Injuring Others Remains, Even When Regulations Place the Duty Solely on Another

Even though state and federal regulations place the duty to secure loads “solely” on the transporter, a company that loaded the truck could still be responsible for a third party’s injuries.  That responsibility remained even though the transporter admitted that regulations placed this responsibility on it, and admitted that the company that loaded the material never agreed to assume responsibility for securing the load.

When third party safety is the concern, courts rarely allow parties to shift the entire responsibility for the situation to another.  Regulations and contract provisions almost never provide complete protection.  If a party’s negligence injures a third party, that action can lead to liability, even when regulations or a contract place the safety requirements in that situation solely on another.

Failing to Secure a Load of Drilling Mud

In Bujnoch v. National Oilwell Varco, an intermediate Texas appellate court addressed a situation where National Oilwell Varco (“NOV”) loaded drilling mud into a transporter’s truck, for removal from a drill site.  Apparently, neither the transporter’s driver nor NOV ensured that the load was secure.  The estate of Amanda Bujnoch sued NOV, claiming that NOV’s negligence was responsible for her death.  Allegedly, the vehicle in which she was riding encountered drilling mud leaking from the truck, causing the vehicle to slide off the road and her to be killed.

The trial court dismissed the case, determining that NOV owed no duty to third parties, because state and federal regulations placed the sole responsibility for securing loads with the transporter.  The appellate court reversed.  While acknowledging that the regulations placed the responsibility to secure the load onto the transporter, NOV’s decision to load the trailer, and subsequent failure to secure the load or to verify that the transporter did so, made NOV potentially liable for injuries to third parties.  The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court, for a jury trial.

Generally, parties are liable only for reasonably foreseeable injuries.  NOV argued that as a matter of law it was not reasonably foreseeable that the transporter would neglect its legal duty to secure the load.  The appellate court rejected that argument, ruling that it was for the jury to decide if the injury was reasonably foreseeable to NOV, under these circumstances.

Contractual and Regulatory Provisions Do Not Provide Complete Protection

When companies undertake actions that, if done negligently, could injure third parties, contractual or regulatory provisions that place safety responsibility on another rarely provide complete protection to the party undertaking the action.  Generally, both the party taking the action and the party with the contractual or regulatory responsibility will have potential liability.  Companies should ensure that their employees avoid negligence, even when regulatory or contractual provisions appear to place sole responsibility on another.

For a copy of the intermediate appellate court opinion click here.

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