OCEAN CITY — A federal judge last week dismissed a $7.5 million case filed by a truck driver who was crushed when a massive dredge pipe rolled off of his flatbed on a lot in the downtown area.
In September 2014, Florida-based Goodloe Marine was working on a project contracted by the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge navigational channels in and around the Ocean City area. A South Carolina truck driver delivered a load of 30 dredge pipes, each 50-foot long and 16 inches in diameter and weighing 1,600 pounds to Goodloe Marine’s staging area on a vacant lot along the bay at 1st Street.
While the Goodloe Marine employee was offloading the massive pipes with a fork-lift-type loader, one of the pipes rolled off the flat-bed truck, crushing the truck driver, Roger Childress III, who was on the ground removing straps from the bundles of pipes. Childress, who suffered traumatic and lasting injuries as a result of being pinned and crushed by one of the massive pipes, filed a civil suit in federal court seeking $7.5 million asserting Goodloe Marine and its employee onsite who was offloading the pipes were negligent.
However, after several months of back-and-forth motions and other proceedings in the case, U.S. District Court Judge James Brednar ruled in favor of the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, opining the truck driver’s own negligence contributed to the accident.
According to the agreed-upon facts in the case, Childress picked up the load of pipes in South Carolina and delivered them to Goodloe’s staging area on a lot at 1st Street in Ocean City on the morning of September 8, 2014. A Goodloe Marine employee was already onsite with a fork-lift -type loader to begin removing the massive pipes from the flatbed.
Childress was on the ground and was unstrapping the pipes, which were organized in three big bundles and secured with a network of safety straps. Childress removed the straps from the first bundle and the pipes were safely removed without incident. However, when Childress began unstrapping the second bundle, he threw the first two straps safely over to the driver’s side of the flatbed.
When he attempted to throw the third strap across the truck, it got stuck on the second bundle of pipes. Against all warnings and protocols, Childress then walked around to the opposite side of the truck and attempted to remove the third strap. The Goodloe employee operating the loader could not see Childress and presumed he had cleared the area. When the Goodloe employee went in with the loader to begin removing the pipes, one of the pipes rolled off the truck and crushed Childress, who was on the opposite side and out of site. The original complaint described Childress’ injuries and asserts the Goodloe employee was negligent in the incident.
“Mr. Childress was violently crushed and suffered severe and serious injuries to the bones, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, nerves and tissues of the body, including without limitation multiple lacerations, contusions, and related crush injuries including fractures to the right arm, ankle, and leg, all of which might be permanent,” the complaint read. “Mr. Childress also suffered a sudden and violent shock to the nervous system as well as aches and pains, shock, mental anguish and disability.”
Childress filed suit seeking $7.5 million from the Goodloe employee and the parent company, asserting they were negligent in not taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of the truck driver. However, the federal judge last week, relying on established case law, ruled Childress contributed to the negligence by not following safety protocols himself. According to case law, even if the defendants were negligent to some degree, Childress’ own negligence canceled out any legal claim by the plaintiff.
“No hearing is necessary to resolve this matter,” the judge’s order reads. “Because the plaintiff was contributorily negligent, and because there is no genuine issue of material fact about that, summary judgment will be granted for the defendants on both counts.”
The judge’s motion dismissing the case points out Childress knew or should of known the dangers of standing too close to the truck when the pipes were being off-loaded and even signed a release prior to taking delivery of the cargo. The safety document included language such as “pipes falling off the truck can kill and injure,” and “never go to the opposite side of the trailer when unloading equipment is moving near the truck.”
According to the agreed-upon facts, Childress threw two straps from the final bundle from the passenger side to the driver’s side of the flatbed, but the third strap did not clear the bundle. Childress then walked around to the other side to remove the strap, which is when the Goodloe employee began to unload the final bundle. The judge’s ruling asserts Childress broke from protocol when he walked unseen to the other side of the truck and thus contributed to the negligence that caused his injuries.