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Friday, August 23, 2019

Louisiana appeals court overturns judgment in logistics company worker's injury claim

By David Hutton | Oct 10, 2017

SHREVEPORT – The Louisiana 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal has overturned a lower court's ruling in favor of Baker Distributing Co. LLC in a case involving a trucking company worker who claims he was injured while unloading materials at a Baker Distributing warehouse.

David Cox and his employer, Southwestern Motor Transport Inc., appealed a judgment of the 1st Judicial District Court in Louisiana’s Caddo Parrish that granted summary judgment in favor of Baker Distributing, which sells heating and air conditioning equipment to contractors.

Chief Judge Henry Brown Jr. and Judges Felicia Toney Williams and Joe Bleich heard the case. 

According to the complaint, a Baker Distributing employee asked Cox to handle his load of four palettes of shrink-wrapped materials, which he unloaded. However, the loading dock did not have an operable dock plate, which bridges the gap between the truck and the dock, the complaint states. Cox also claimed that the dock was crowded with other objects, so a forklift could not be used.

While unloading the last pallet, Cox’s foot became stuck in the gap between his truck and the dock, and he fell, landing on his back. He claimed that as a result, he suffered permanent and disabling injuries.

In his complaint, Cox said the company’s dock was unnecessarily dangerous and the company had a duty to provide a safe dock.

In appealing the lower court’s ruling, Cox stated the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because it missed several key facts in dispute regarding the risk presented on the dock.

Moreover, Cox maintained that the trial court overlooked analysis in the case by only considering whether the defect was open and obvious.

The trial court ruled that the lack of a dock plate and gap was “an open and obvious hazard.” As a result, it granted Baker’s motion for summary judgment because "[u]nder Louisiana law, a defendant generally does not have a duty to protect against an open and obvious hazard."

As a result, Cox had to demonstrate that he could meet his burden of proof in a trial. 

The appeals court found that the trial court erred in granting Baker's motion for summary judgment.

“Considering not only the lack of a dock plate on the Baker loading dock, but the overall condition of the loading dock, Cox did not encounter necessarily an open and obvious condition, and material facts exist as to whether this situation created an unreasonable risk of harm to him,” the appeals court wrote in its opinion. “Given the fact-specific issues of this case, summary judgment in favor of Baker was improper, and the trial court’s disposition was in error.”

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Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal