Can the owner of a poorly maintained flat-bed trailer that flips on its side be found liable for damages suffered by the driver of the vehicle?

In a case out of Orange County, Florida a jury was faced with just this issue. A flat-bed trailer, owned by Joseph Trucking, was loaded with 3.6 tons of pre-cast concrete in Seminole County to be driven to South Florida. While negotiating a curve at only 15 miles per hour, the wooden bed of the flat-bed collapsed under the weight of the concrete. The sudden movement of the load caused the tractor trailer pulling the flat-bed trailer to flip on its left side injuring the driver.
At trial, the driver’s attorney presented evidence demonstrating that the defective condition of the flat bed was the cause of the driver’s injury. First it was shown that flat-bed trailer was in poor condition with holes in the floor of the bed as well as rotten and warped wood. Second, Joseph Trucking was shown to have knowledge of the poor condition of the flat-bed. Third, it was shown that wood used in previous repairs was not the type typically used for such repairs. Fourth, Joseph Trucking was unable to produce any maintenance or repair records for the flat-bed trailer. Fifth, the driver was able to present evidence that the concrete pieces where properly loaded and secured on the flat-bed trailer. Sixth, the driver was demonstrated to be a properly licensed commercial vehicle operator with the necessary experience. Finally, the driver was able to demonstrate that he was experienced with driving on the roadway where the accident occurred.

The jury found that Joseph Trucking was 70% at fault and the driver was 30% at fault. Interestingly, the trial judge granted Joseph Trucking’s motion for directed verdict, finding that the notwithstanding the evidence describe above, the driver had failed to demonstrate that defective condition of the truck caused the accident. On appeal, the 5th District Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court and overruled the trial court, finding that the driver’s attorney did present sufficient evidence at trial for the jury to find that the poor condition of the flat-bed trailer was a contributing cause of the accident.

See Benitez v. Joseph Trucking, Inc., 36 Fla. L. Weekly D1995 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011).