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Wilkes v. Celadon Group, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 12, 2019

Paul Michael Wilkes, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Celadon Group, Inc., et al., Appellees-Defendants.

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable David J. Dreyer, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 49D10-1601-CT-3170

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Caroline B. Briggs Lafayette, Indiana W. Winston Briggs Atlanta, Georgia Terry D. Jackson Atlanta, Georgia

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES Kevin C. Tyra THE TYRA LAW FIRM Indianapolis, Indiana

          BAILEY, JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Paul Michael Wilkes ("Wilkes") appeals the grant of summary judgment in favor of Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., Celadon Logistics Services, Inc. and Celadon Group, Inc. (collectively, "Celadon") and Cummins, Inc., Cummins Corporation, and Cummins John Doe Entities (collectively, "Cummins") (at times, collectively referred to as "Defendants" or "Appellees"), upon Wilkes's negligence claims.[1] We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         Issues

         [¶2] Wilkes presents two consolidated issues for review:[2]

I. Whether the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment to Celadon upon determining that Celadon owed Wilkes no duty of care; and
II. Whether the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment to Cummins upon determining that Cummins owed Wilkes no duty of care.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Cummins is a manufacturer of engine parts, with a principal place of business in Columbus, Indiana. Cummins contracted with Celadon Dedicated Services to transport, by semi-truck and trailer, empty reusable containers in which Cummins housed engine parts ("returnables"). Cummins would stack the returnables at its Columbus premises and Celadon employees would retrieve them. They were loaded by forklift and removed for future transport by Celadon or, at times, another motor freight carrier. The returnables, empty and lubricated with industrial solvents, were routinely shipped from Celadon's Columbus, Indiana facility to OIC Contract Services ("OIC") in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At OIC, returnables were pressure-washed before being transported back to Cummins.

         [¶4] On January 29, 2014, Wilkes, an over-the-road truck driver for Knight Transport ("Knight"), was dispatched to the Celadon yard to pick up a trailer filled with returnables for transport to OIC. A Celadon load coordinator directed Wilkes as to where to drop his empty trailer and where to find the loaded trailer for transport.

         [¶5] The trailer, owned by Knight, had been loaded by Rick Wilson ("Wilson"), an employee of Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Celadon Group, Inc. Cummins did not supervise or direct the loading of the trailer. When deposed, Wilson could not recall the specifics of loading the trailer in question, but described the methodology that was "the most common way to load these returnable trays" as "tapering the load," and elaborated:

[It is] down-stacking towards the tail of the trailer. It's just a commonsense maneuver to keep the load stationary, keep the load from falling out, for the most part. …Typically the last stack [as compared to the middle and front of the trailer] is about half the size of the tallest stack. Sometimes we tier it [in] three stacks. In other words, you have a tall stack, one that's three-quarters of a stack and one typically about half that stack. It secures the load well.

(App. Vol. XII, pgs. 192-93.) Although Wilkes's freight may have been tapered, it was not bound, strapped, or shrink-wrapped.

         [¶6] When Wilkes was directed to and approached the loaded trailer, the doors were open. He looked inside and saw stacks of trays rising almost to the top of the trailer. He observed nothing "outstanding," closed and locked the doors, and affixed a Knight seal on the trailer. (App. Vol. XIV, pg. 151.) Each of Knight's "dry trailers" has a vertical space for attaching straps; Wilkes did not add any strapping.

         [¶7] En route, Wilkes did not feel the load shift to a degree that caused him concern. After arriving with the cargo at OIC, Wilkes parked his trailer as directed and began opening the trailer doors. He first raised a handle, which came up without incident. The first door was opened without Wilkes detecting undue pressure. However, as Wilkes began to slowly open the second door, he heard a noise "at the top of the door," saw a flash, and was struck by cascading trays. Id. at 134. Wilkes sustained serious injuries, including a broken neck and brain trauma.

         [¶8] On January 26, 2016, Wilkes filed a complaint against Cummins, Celadon, and various other defendants (who were subsequently dismissed by consent order). Therein, Wilkes alleged that Wilson, a Celadon employee, negligently loaded the subject trailer, the cargo shifted in transport, it came loose from its pallets, fell out of the truck, and cascaded onto Wilkes, ...


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