Court Addresses Unreasonable Risk Standard in Trucking Liability Case

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently handed no-fault insurers a resounding win with its ruling on the principle of “unreasonable risk” in an important trucking liability case.

The court, in Karen Jordan v The Insurance Company of The State of Pennsylvania, No. 316125, ruled on Aug. 19 that a semi-tractor trailer truck which had pulled over to the side of the road, parked in the right-hand land as close to the curb as possible, and did not block any other lanes of traffic was not parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of bodily injury.

The appellate court noted that there is no rule regarding what type of parking situation is actually an unreasonable risk of injury, although MCL 500.3106(1)(a) recognizes that the act of parking can be done in a fashion which causes an unreasonable risk of injury in some circumstances.  As a result of this decision, when evaluating whether there is liability for parking on the side of a road, factors such as manner, location, and fashion in which a vehicle is parked are material to determining whether the parked vehicle poses an unreasonable risk.

Plunkett Cooney attorneys successfully argued to the appellate court that the semi-truck and its trailer were not parked in such a way that they posed an unreasonable risk of bodily injury, including the notable fact that they were parked on a straight portion of a five-lane roadway with a posted speed limit of 50 miles per hour.

In addition, the driver parked as close to the curb as possible, which kept the truck and trailer from protruding into any other lanes of traffic. The accident occurred during the day in clear weather under dry road conditions, and the driver placed emergency warning triangles in the roadway behind the trailer. These key factors persuaded the appellate court to agree with the defense and to affirm the trial court’s decision.

Notably, the plaintiff argued that the driver was in violation of federal regulation requiring activation of emergency flashers and placement of a certain number of warning triangles. In rejecting this argument, the appellate court stated that any attempt to show a driver’s violation of federal regulation was not within the meaning of MCL 500.3106(1)(a). Therefore, the parked semi-truck and trailer did not pose an unreasonable risk to oncoming traffic.

Liability evaluations under MCL 500.3106(1)(a) should now include a thorough review of the factors that led to an incident and whether the actions of the driver, in fact, caused an unreasonable risk of harm.

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