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Estate of Staggs v. ADS Logistics Co., LLC

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 14, 2018

Estate of Zachary D. Staggs by and through his Personal Rep., Denise Coulter, and Mackenzie Taylor, by and through her Parent and Guardian, Denise Coulter;
ADS Logistics Co., LLC, Appellee-Defendant Jennifer L. Daugherty, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Michael G. Daugherty, Deceased; and Dennis Byrd, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Shannon R. Steele, Appellants-Plaintiffs,

          Appeal from the Porter Superior Court The Honorable Roger V. Bradford, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 64D01-1108-CT-7592

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS ESTATE OF STAGGS AND MACKENZIE TAYLOR J. Kevin King Cline, King & King, P.C. Columbus, Indiana William R. Ogden Farrar & Ball, LLP Houston, Texas

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS JENNIFER DAUGHERTY AND ESTATE OF DAUGHERTY William H. Mullis William H. Mullis, P.C. Mitchell, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT ESTATE OF STEELE Matthew J. Schad George A. Budd, V Schad & Schad, P.C. New Albany, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Scott B. Cockrum Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP Schererville, Indiana

          Baker, Judge.

         [¶1] In January 2010, a large steel coil that was secured to a flatbed tractor-trailer became unsecured and struck other motorists traveling on State Road 37. The accident resulted in serious injuries and multiple deaths.

         [¶2] Following the accident, the following parties filed complaints that were ultimately consolidated: (1) the Estate of Zachary D. Staggs by and through his personal representative, Denise Coulter ("Staggs"); (2) Mackenzie Taylor, by and through her parent and guardian, Denise Coulter ("Taylor"); (3) Jennifer L. Daugherty, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Michael G. Daugherty ("Daugherty"); and (4) Dennis Byrd, as special administrator of the estate of Shannon R. Steele ("Steele") (collectively, the Appellants).

         [¶3] One of the named defendants was ADS Logistics Co., LLC (ADS), which had warehoused the steel coil. ADS moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted its motion, finding as a matter of law that ADS had no duty to the Appellants. The Appellants appeal, arguing that summary judgment was improperly granted. Finding no error, we affirm.


         [¶4] ADS is, in part, a warehouse facility. ADS has a long-standing contractual relationship with ArcelorMittal USA, LLC ("Mittal"), pursuant to which ADS warehouses products for Mittal. Relevant to this case is ADS's agreement to warehouse a large steel coil weighing just under 40, 000 pounds for Mittal.

         [¶5] Mittal agreed to sell or ship the coil to Ohio River Metal Services, Inc., doing business as Eagle Steel Products, Inc. ("Eagle Steel"). Eagle Steel then hired Kendall Transportation to haul the steel coil from ADS to Eagle Steel. Israel Rankin operated a tractor-trailer that he owned under the motor carrier authority of Kendall Transportation.

         [¶6] On January 11, 2010, Kendall Transportation dispatched Rankin to haul the steel coil from ADS to Eagle Steel. Eagle Steel paid Kendall Transportation for this work, and, in turn, Kendall Transportation paid Rankin a percentage of the load plus a fuel surcharge. Kendall Transportation's dispatcher and Rankin controlled the means and methods of delivering a load to a customer. Rankin had been trained how to secure a steel coil through previous employment and through his work at Kendall Transportation. He provided his own equipment to secure the coil to his vehicle.

         [¶7] At the ADS warehouse, an ADS crane operator placed the steel coil onto Rankin's flatbed trailer. ADS corporate representative Matt Brinkley attested that, as would normally occur, the crane operator followed Rankin's instructions on where and how to place the steel coil on the flatbed. Rankin attested that he stood on top of his trailer and directed the crane operator where to place the steel coil. Brinkley also attested that the crane operator would not have loaded a coil onto a flatbed in a position that was obviously and apparently unsafe.

         [¶8] After the crane operator moved the steel coil onto the flatbed, Rankin secured the steel coil to the trailer. Brinkley, Kendall Transportation, Rankin, and Kendall Transportation's safety consultant agree that it is the driver's responsibility to secure the load onto the driver's vehicle.

         [¶9] Rankin performed a mental calculation to determine how to secure the coil. Specifically, he would take the total weight of the coil and divide it in half to determine the amount he had to account for. In this case, he calculated he had to secure approximately 21, 000 pounds; therefore, he used 3 chains, which he mistakenly believed would equal a working load limit of 30, 000 pounds. He erroneously thought that each chain had a working load limit of 10, 000 pounds, but in fact, each chain had a working load limit of 6, 600 pounds. Moreover, Rankin used 3 binders to secure the coil, but each binder had a working load limit of only 5, 400 pounds, meaning that the total working load limit for the binders was 16, 200 pounds-well below the 21, 000 pounds required for the subject coil.

         [¶10] After securing the steel coil to his flatbed trailer, Rankin began the drive to Eagle Steel. He made one stop to eat lunch. After lunch, he checked the load to ensure that it was still secured and then continued on his way. In Mitchell, a car pulled out in front of him and Rankin was forced to brake a little harder than normal (the "hard braking incident"). He did not stop to check his load after the hard braking incident even though he had observed that the incident "jarred his truck, " that he "felt something in the truck, " and afterwards, that the load "felt funny." Appellants' App. Vol. III p. 72, 74.

         [¶11] A few miles down the road from the hard braking incident, while traveling on State Road 37 in Orange County, the steel coil became unsecured. At that time, Taylor, Staggs, and Steele were traveling in Staggs's pickup truck, and Daugherty was traveling in a different vehicle, near Rankin's tractor-trailer. When the coil became unsecured, it left Rankin's tractor-trailer and crashed into ...

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