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Appeals court overturns Michigan's wrongful death suit ruling

Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned a decision made by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan regarding liability in a fatal tractor-trailer accident.

In May of 2007, an 18-wheeler carrying a load of steel crashed into the Warren Avenue Bridge on I-94, and causing the wrongful death of a truck driver, closing the freeway and leaving thousands of motorists stranded for hours.

The company that loaded the steel beam was required to report the height of the load. Which they did. But, they were off by at least 1.5 inches. The freight was too tall to fit under the bridge. The beam hit the bridge, slid off the back and crushed the victim who was in another vehicle.

The estate of the decedent filed a claim against four defendants including the company that loaded the truck, the company that arranged for the carrier, the company that obtained the permits to haul the steel, and the company that actually transported the load.

But Michigan's district court excused three of the defendants claiming that "only the owner of a vehicle that collides with a lawfully established bridge" could be held liable in the wrongful death suit. Their decision was based on rulings in other common-law negligence cases.

The court of appeals overturned that decision saying that the cited legal precedence did not completely exclude any other liable parties from responsibility if they were also negligent in the acts leading up to the accident.

Michigan law allows defendants to share and/or shift liability damages in this case and other wrongful death negligence cases.

Source: leglanewsline.com, "Sixth Circuit: Other companies can be held liable in beam accident," Jessica M. Karmasek, May 15, 2012

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