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Wyckoff Trucking, Inc. et al. v. Marsh Brothers Trucking Service, Inc. et al.
58 Ohio St.3d 261 (1991)

Facts:

Driver operated a tractor-trailer rig, which was owned by his employer Wyckoff Trucking. Wyckoff leased the rights to use Driver’s services and rig to C.J. Rogers Trucking Co. Rogers had exclusive possession and control under the lease, but agreed with Wyckoff that, both Wyckoff and Driver could pick up additional “trip-leases” (single trip leases) when Rogers did not need Driver.

During a period in which he did not have an assignment from Rogers, he picked up a trip-lease from Marsh Brothers Trucking to pick up steel located in Michigan and deliver it to Marsh’s office in Ohio. During this trip-lease, Driver collided with Plaintiff, while displaying placards listing Interstate Commerce Commission identification numbers of Rogers. Plaintiff brought suit against everyone involved.

The trial court held that Rogers’ insurer must indemnify Rogers and Bell in the action, since the master-lease was valid and in effect during the accident. The appellate court reversed, holding that Driver was not acting in the business of Rogers. Marsh (trip-lease was for them) and Wyckoff (employer) instead were held to be in control of Driver, so each of their respective insurers were to indemnify the businesses. This ruling was in conflict with a judgment from Geauga County and was certified for appeal.

Issues Presented:

  1. Whether a carrier-lessee of a motor vehicle engaged in interstate commerce is liable under Interstate Commerce Commission regulations for any accidents caused by the negligence of the driver while the lease is in effect and while the motor vehicle displays the carrier-lessee’s I.C.C. placards or identification numbers, even though the driver is not the lessee’s employee.

Rule:

  1. In tort causes of action involving leased vehicles of interstate motor carriers, primary liability shall be determined with regard to Interstate Commerce Commission regulations rather than the common-law doctrines of respondeat superior, master-servant, independent contractor and the like.

  2. Under 49 C.F.R. § 1057.12, in order for liability to attach on an interstate carrier-lessee under I.C.C. regulations, it must be established that at the time the cause of action arose, (1) a lease of the vehicle was in effect and (2) the vehicle displayed the carrier-lessee’s placard listing its I.C.C. numbers.

  3. 49 C.F.R. § 1057.12(c)(1) creates a rebuttable presumption of an employment relationship between the carrier-lessee and the driver of a vehicle that displays the I.C.C. identification numbers of the carrier-lessee.

The court of appeals relied on Thornberry v. Oyler Bros., Inc., 164 Ohio St. 395 (1955), which was ruled on before the I.C.C. made amendments to their code. Thornberry, said that traditional common-law doctrines, like respondeat superior, were used to determine liability in interstate carrier cases involving leased vehicles. Id. At the time, Thornberry was consistent with the I.C.C. regulationss.

However, the I.C.C. has since amended its regulations holding that the lessee shall have exclusive possession and control of the vehicle and shall assume complete responsibility for the operation of the vehicle. 49 C.F.R. § 1057.12(c)(1). This was done in an attempt to stop carriers from avoiding safety regulations by leasing drivers and equipment. Empire Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Guaranty Natl. Ins. Co., 868 F.2d 357, 362 (10th Cir. 1989). This rule also allows Plaintiffs to have certainty as to who is financially responsible for their accidents. Id. The I.C.C. also requires all certified carriers to maintain insurance for any final judgment recovered against a motor carrier for bodily injuries, of any person, resulting from negligent operation, maintenance or use of motor vehicles under the carrier’s permit. 49 C.F.R. § 1043.1(a).

Under the new I.C.C. regulations, states have taken different points of view in interpreting them. The minority view holds that a written lease along with an I.C.C. placard creates a rebuttable presumption of an employment relationship, which ultimately, results in the use of common-law doctrines (respondeat superior). The majority says a valid lease and displaying the I.C.C. placard results in an irrebuttable presumption (also known as statutory employment) of an employment relationship.

This Court adopts the majority approach in order to provide certainty for plaintiffs. Also, the Court believes that this approach follows the intent of the I.C.C. regulations. Since there was both a lease of the vehicle in effect and the vehicle displayed the carrier-lessee’s placard, an irrebuttable presumption of an employment relationship between the interstate carrier-lessee (Rogers) and the Driver was established. Rogers is liable for the negligence of Driver.

The dissent would not have overruled Thornbery. Thus, the dissent would have interpreted the I.C.C. regulations to not impose a liability on the carrier using leased equipment greater than that when operating its own equipment. Since Ohio uses respondeat superior, this would be the proper standard to apply, not the heightened standard

About the Authors: Sawan & Sawan is a multi-generational, family owned law firm practicing law in the areas of car accidents, truck accidents, insurance claims, personal injury, litigation and more. Our firm practices law in Ohio (Toledo, Columbus), Georgia, Michigan and Florida

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