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New Jersey Court Finds Truck Drivers May Owe Duty of Care to Unloading Customer

February 22, 2017

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Before establishing a party’s negligence, a plaintiff must prove that the party owed it a duty of care.  If a party voluntarily assumes a duty of care it may face liability.
In <a href="http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/a0814-15.pdf"><em>Fiorentino v. Landstar Ranger, Inc. and Falloon</em></a>, the defendant delivered a slot machine to a gaming facility, and a salesperson decided to help the truck driver unload the truck.  While unloading, the truck driver instructed plaintiff how to position his hands, assisted plaintiff in assembling a ramp to lead up the truck, and was present while plaintiff unloaded the machine, and when it eventually fell on him.  The defendants moved for summary judgment arguing they did not owe plaintiff a duty of care.  On appeal, the court evaluated several factors to determine the duty of care including the relationship between the parties, the defendant’s responsibility for creating the harm, and whether the defendant had sufficient control, opportunity, and ability to avoid the risk of harm. The court ultimately found that the driver voluntarily assumed the duty of care by assisting plaintiff in his direction and assistance with unloading the machine.
This case demonstrates that New Jersey courts can impose a duty of care between two parties even if there is no legal relationship.  Defense counsel should carefully evaluate whether such a duty can be judicially imposed in personal injury actions.
Thanks to Kenneth Eng for his contribution to this post.
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