Negligent Truck Loading
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
August Term 1998
(Argued: October 15, 1998 Decided: August 23, 1999)
Question Certified November 18, 1998
Certified Question Answered by
New York Court of Appeals July 1, 1999
Docket No. 98-7183
ARTHUR ARGENTINA and MARY ARGENTINA,
EMERY WORLD WIDE DELIVERY CORP.,
BEST CONSULTING CORP.,
P. CHIMENTO CO., INC.,
EVER SHARPE DELIVERY SERVICE, INC.,
Before: WALKER, Circuit Judge, MUKASEY, 1 District Judge, and RESTANI, 2 Judge. 3
Resolution of an issue certified to the New York Court of Appeals regarding whether a plaintiff who was injured while unloading a truck can recover damages from the truck's owner pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388(1) when the truck itself was not the instrumentality that caused the injury.
Vacated and remanded.
PETER K. LEDWITH White, Quinlan, Staley & Ledwith Garden City, NY for Plaintiffs-Appellants
WILLIAM R. AHMUTY, III Ahmuty, Demers & McManus Albertson, NY for Defendant-Appellee Best Consulting Corp.
ANDREW A. ELMAN (William D. Bierman on the brief) Hannoch Weisman, P.C. Roseland, NJ for Defendant-Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellee Emery World Wide Delivery Corp.
WILLIAM ROME Jaffe & Asher New York, NY for Third-Party-Defendant- Appellee P. Chimento Co., Inc.
This is an appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Joanna Seybert, District Judge), dismissing plaintiffs-appellants' claims on the basis that the vehicle owned by defendant-appellee Emery World Wide Delivery Corp. was not the proximate cause of the injury suffered by plaintiff-appellant Arthur Argentina. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants' negligence in the ownership, use, control, and loading of a truck operated as part of Emery's business was responsible for injuries suffered by Argentina on March 12, 1991, when he was struck by a steel plate while unloading cargo from the truck at Emery's terminal at JFK International Airport.
On appeal, we certified two questions to the New York Court of Appeals concerning New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388(1). See Argentina v. Emery World Wide Delivery Corp., 161 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir. 1998). That section provides, in pertinent part, that
Every owner of a vehicle used or operated in this state shall be liable and responsible for death or injuries to person or property resulting from negligence in the use or operation of such vehicle, in the business of such owner or otherwise, by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner.
Plaintiffs' theory of the case was that Ever Sharpe Delivery Services, Inc., the company employed by Emery to load and unload cargo onto Emery's trucks, had negligently loaded the steel plate onto Emery's truck, and that this negligence was the proximate cause of Argentina's injuries. Plaintiffs argued that Emery should be held vicariously liable for Ever Sharpe's negligence because Ever Sharpe was a permissive user of Emery's truck.
In dismissing plaintiffs' claims, the district court acknowledged that the New York Court of Appeals had never directly answered the question of whether loading and unloading constitutes use or operation of a vehicle for purposes of § 388(1). Nevertheless, the district court assumed without deciding that loading and unloading constituted use or operation, but found that Emery still could not be held liable under § 388(1). Relying on the reasoning of the New York Court of Appeals in Walton v. Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co., 88 N.Y.2d 211, 215-16 (1996), a case concerning New York's no-fault insurance statute, N.Y. Ins. Law § 5103(a)(1), the district court held that, in order for the owner of a vehicle to be liable for injuries arising out of the use or operation of the vehicle, the vehicle itself must be the proximate cause of the injuries. Because the district court found that plaintiffs-appellants had "conceded" that the truck itself was not the proximate cause of Argentina's injuries while claiming that the proximate cause was the improper loading of the truck, it held as a matter of law that Emery was not liable.
On appeal, plaintiffs-appellants contended that the district court incorrectly incorporated the proximate cause rule from Walton into a case involving a different statute. Defendants-appellees contended on appeal that the district court improperly assumed that loading and unloading constitute use or operation of a vehicle within the meaning of § 388(1).
Finding that the case raised two legal issues that were open under New York law, we certified the following questions to the New York Court of Appeals:
(1) Whether, under New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 388(1), loading and unloading constitute "use or operation" of a vehicle.
(2) Whether, under New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 388(1), the vehicle must be the proximate cause of the injury before the vehicle's owner may be held vicariously liable.
The New York Court of Appeals has answered the first certified question in the affirmative and the second certified question in the negative. See Argentina v. Emery World Wide Delivery Corp., N.Y. Slip. Op. 06308, 1999 WL 444345 (July 1, 1999) (attached here as an Appendix). It held that loading and unloading constitute use or operation of a vehicle within the meaning of New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388(1), and that the vehicle need not be the proximate cause of an injury before the vehicle's owner may be held vicariously liable. The New York Court of Appeals held that, in light of the different purposes served by New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388(1) and New York's no-fault insurance statute, the district court erred in importing the proximate cause requirement under the no-fault insurance statute into Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388(1).
In light of the decision of the New York Court of Appeals, we vacate the district court's judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.
The judgment of the district court is vacated and the case is remanded. Each party shall bear its own costs.
The Honorable Michael B. Mukasey, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, sitting by designation.
The Honorable Jane A. Restani, of the United States Court of International Trade, sitting by designation.
**Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 46(b) and an order of the Chief Judge of this Court certifying a judicial emergency, this case was heard by a panel consisting of one judge of this Circuit and two judges sitting by designation.
*** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***
**The laws cited may not apply in your jurisdiction - Consult a local lawyer.**
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