When trucking or commercial vehicle accidents occur, there is a substantial likelihood of property damage, personal injury, and potential catastrophic harm to drivers, passengers, or pedestrians. When there is a question of fault involved, competing interests between the injured parties, the insurance carriers, and law enforcement will undoubtedly arise. Drivers and their employers may face both civil and criminal litigation contemporaneously. Therefore, the company’s driver and counsel for the trucking company must carefully consider their defense strategy immediately following any accident to protect the varying interests of all involved.

Criminal charges arising from trucking or commercial vehicle accidents can range from minor to severe, varying from marked lane violations, speeding, exceeding allowable weight limits, to vehicular homicide charges. By way of example, MG+M attorneys defended a trucking operator (and parent corporation) when a driver inadvertently struck a tow truck operator who was assisting a disabled vehicle on the Massachusetts Turnpike, resulting in the death of the tow truck operator. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts charged the driver with motor vehicle homicide by negligent driving, among other charges, and shortly thereafter, representatives on behalf of the deceased tow truck operator filed a civil complaint against the truck driver and his employer (for vicarious liability), alleging wrongful death as well. The civil case resolved following a successful mediation with no personal or excess exposure. Diligent and careful cooperation between the civil and criminal defense teams beginning from the time of the crash led to this favorable outcome.

Continue Reading Defending Commercial Vehicle Accident Civil Claims with Companion Criminal Litigation: A Balancing Act

The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently issued a decision in Doull v. Foster in which it adopted the “but-for” standard for causation in negligence cases. The Court held that the but-for test is the appropriate standard for Massachusetts courts to employ in the vast majority of negligence cases involving multiple alleged causes of harm, almost completely eliminating the substantial factor test for causation. It did, however, carve out from that standard cases with multiple sufficient causes, such as asbestos and other toxic tort matters, due to the difficulty in establishing “which particular exposures were necessary to bring about the harm.” [Doull at p. 14]. The Court did, however, leave open the possibility that it may also replace the “substantial factor” test in those cases as well.  This potential for a new rule has created tremendous uncertainty as to the appropriate causation standard for toxic tort cases in Massachusetts moving forward.

Continue Reading Supreme Judicial Court Adopts But-for Causation Test in Most Negligence Cases and Its Impact on Toxic Tort Litigation

The United States Supreme Court is expected to resolve a critical circuit split this term concerning a defendant’s right to appeal orders of remand based on several grounds when removal from state to federal court is triggered by federal officer or civil rights jurisdiction. To do this, the Court must examine the plain language and legislative intent of at least six different provisions contained in Title 28 of the United States Code, clarify the duties of the Courts of Appeal, and potentially even redefine the meaning of an “order” that is issued by a U.S. district court.

On January 19, 2021, the Court heard oral argument in BP P.L.C., et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.  This case – which garnered the attention of nearly two dozen amici curiae, including the United States government and the United States Chamber of Commerce – was originally filed in Maryland state court by the City of Baltimore (the “City”).  Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. BP P.L.C., et al., 388 F.Supp.3d 538, 568 (D. Md. 2019).  The City alleged that the defendant energy companies caused the City to sustain injuries related to climate change.  Id. at 548.  Two of the defendants removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland on several grounds, including federal officer jurisdiction.  Id. at 567.  The defendant energy companies asserted that they were acting under the direction of federal officers in light of their alleged contractual obligations with the U.S. government to supply fuel to the U.S. Navy.[1]  Id. at 568.

Continue Reading Removal, Remand, and Appeal: A Weedy Issue of Orders, Statutory Language, and Jurisdiction Under SCOTUS Review

The United States Supreme Court’s March 25 opinion in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, et al., 592 U.S. ____ (2021), has been highly anticipated by consumers and corporate defendants alike. Ford’s argument in the companion Minnesota and Montana cases was intriguing: even where a foreign defendant admits it has “purposefully availed” itself of the privilege of conducting activities within a state, can the forum court maintain specific jurisdiction if such conduct was not a “causal link” to the litigation? With Justice Kagan writing for five justices, the Court answered in the affirmative: “When a company like Ford serves a market for a product in a State and that product causes injury in the State to one of its residents, the State’s courts may entertain the resulting suit.”[1]

Continue Reading Expanding specific jurisdiction factors, Supreme Court cautions against “anything goes” interpretation

Over the past weeks a majority of states in the United States have experienced severe winter weather that has impacted the lives of millions of Americans. With severe winter weather comes dangerous driving conditions and increases in deadly accidents.

In response to the recent winter storm damage experienced throughout the country and the historic shut downs in Texas, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a regional emergency declaration covering 33 states and the District of Columbia. The FMCSA was developed to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses within the U.S. Department of Transportation.[1] Under FMCSA emergency declarations, certain Federal safety regulations, such as hours of service, are suspended for motor carriers and drivers engaged in specific aspects of the emergency relief effort. The most recent declaration in response to the states affected granted relief from Parts 390 through 399 of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations.[2]

Direct assistance ends when a driver or commercial vehicle is not transporting cargo or providing services supporting emergency relief as it relates to the severe winter storms; or when the motor carrier dispatches the driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce.[3] When the direct assistance ends, the driver and motor carrier are again subject to the Federal Regulations mentioned above, unless returning to the motor carrier’s terminal or the driver’s normal work reporting location when returning empty. The emergency declaration still keeps in place certain regulations for drivers such as those regarding controlled substances, alcohol and testing requirements. Continue Reading The Legal Impact of Severe Winter Weather on Trucking and Transportation Companies