On June 27, 2022, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari to a defendant transportation broker in an important case for the rights of those injured in accidents involving big-rig trucks. By denying certiorari, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case and allowed the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the injured plaintiff to stand, giving that decision its stamp of approval going forward.

What did the underlying case involve and why is this a major decision?

In Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., the plaintiff was seriously injured when he was hit by a semi-tractor trailer in Nevada. The defendant was a freight broker who had arranged for a particular trucking company to haul certain goods to a big-box retailer, and the plaintiff alleged that the freight broker negligently selected an unsafe motor carrier when it hired the trucking company.

The plaintiff sued the broker for negligence under state law. The broker argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out because claims based on state law that were made against it as a broker are preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (the “FAAAA”)—a fancy way of saying federal law steps in to prevent lawsuits based on state law, effectively making them immune from liability to injured individuals.

Why would that be so important?

Because it would let freight brokers ignore their responsibility to screen the trucking companies they use and not hire unsafe truckers. All too often, trucking companies skimp on addressing safety issues to keep their costs down and increase their time on the road. Applying the FAAAA would have allowed brokers to simply look for the cheapest trucking company out there and ignore its safety history or other indications that it might be one of those unsafe motor carriers that they should not be hiring and putting on our roads.

Where such trucking companies do operate in this unsafe way, they often do not have enough insurance and/or assets to cover the serious injuries caused in most trucking wrecks. Therefore, it is important to be able to sue the broker not just in order to hold them responsible for being negligent (and hopefully deter them/other brokers from doing so in the future), but also because the broker who negligently hired the unsafe company has its own additional insurance and/or assets to help pay for the damage done to the plaintiff.

Brokers have been trying to use the FAAAA for years now to avoid their own liability when they negligently hire unsafe trucking companies, and we have been fighting them from the beginning. In fact, we successfully defeated the broker’s FAAAA argument on behalf of one of our clients in 2011, which was the first case to do so in the United States and was used a decade later in the Miller plaintiff’s written argument to the U.S. Supreme Court. We are glad we were successful in starting the fight against what would have been a terrible ruling for plaintiffs’ rights, and we commend those involved in the Miller case for finally finishing that fight at the Supreme Court.

If you have been injured because of someone else’s negligence, you should contact the Tennessee personal injury lawyers at the Keith Williams Law Group. With convenient offices located in Nashville and Lebanon, our lawyers will work with you to create a litigation strategy that protects your legal rights and serves your personal needs. For more information or a free consultation, please contact us at 615-444-2900 or visit our contact page.