August 27, 2015
As chair of our Trucking Practice Group, I want to welcome you to our second e-newsletter of 2015. This edition features articles by Mitch Hedrick of our Peoria office, Heidi Agustsson of our Rockford office, Doug Heise of our Edwardsville office and Brian Smith of our Urbana office. In addition to their insightful articles, I would like to mention a recent decision that has a potentially significant impact on trucking litigation. On July 7, 2015, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin decided Dakter, et al. v. Cavallino, Hillsboro Transportation Company, Inc. and Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance Company. In Dakter, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin allowed the following instruction regarding a truck driver's special knowledge and skill:
At the time of the accident, the defendant . . . was a professional truck driver operating a semi tractor-trailer pursuant to a commercial driver's license issued by the State of Wisconsin. As the operator of a semi tractor-trailer, it was [the defendant's] duty to use the degree of care, skill, and judgment which a reasonable semi truck driver would exercise in the same or similar circumstances having due regard for the state of learning, education, experience, and knowledge possessed by semi truck drivers holding commercial driver's licenses. A semi truck driver who fails to conform to the standard is negligent. The burden is on the plaintiff to prove that [the defendant] was negligent. [Emphasis added]
This is an extremely troublesome opinion, given it creates a higher standard of care for truck drivers. It imposes an incredible burden upon the truck driver and the trucking company, a burden which may prove difficult to overcome in many instances. It injects a number of troubling issues into trucking litigation, most notably the creation of a cottage industry involving truck driver standard of care experts. We all need to be aware of the potential use of this tactic in pending and future litigation.
Matthew S. Hefflefinger
Trucking Practice Group Chair