Transportation Executive Summary: Eighth Circuit Holds Carmack Amendment Not a Bar to Personal Injury Claim 


Case Summary:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently reversed a district court’s grants of summary judgment in favor of common carriers under the Carmack Amendment’s (“Carmack”) preemption, finding that Carmack does not preempt a third-party personal injury claim. Fergin v. Westrock Company, No. 18-3502, ___ F.3d ___, 2020 WL 1778817 (8th Cir. 2020).


Pursuant to a 2010 agreement entered into between Magnum Dedicated, Inc. (“Magnum”) and Westrock Company (“Westrock”), Magnum was to transport corrugated cardboard, manufactured by Westrock, to Becton Dickinson (“BD”). In a separate agreement, Westrock leased storage space from XPO, who agreed to provide Westrock with loading services. Subsequently in 2013, XPO loaded a trailer with Westrock-manufactured cardboard, and Magnum delivered the material to BD. After Magnum’s delivery of the trailer of boxes to a storage lot due to lack of space at the loading dock, Michael Fergin (“Fergin”), an employee of BD, drove the trailer to a vacant dock. Before backing the trailer into the dock for unloading, Fergin opened the doors of the trailer and a stack of cardboard boxes fell on him, causing him to hit the ground and fracture his shoulder. The main issue on appeal is whether Carmack’s preemption renders Fergin’s personal injury claim meritless.

Procedural History and Court Rulings:

Fergin brought suit against Westrock in Nebraska state court, which was later removed to the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska. In his second amended complaint, Fergin also brought a negligence claim against Magnum, Westrock and XPO for damages related to his bodily injury. Magnum moved for summary judgment on the state-law claim, arguing that the claim was preempted by Carmack. The district court, in granting Magnum’s motion and finding that Carmack preempted Fergin’s claim, stated that Magnum was a carrier for purposes of Carmack. XPO filed their own motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was also a carrier under Carmack. The district court agreed, granting XPO’s motion and holding that Carmack also preempted Fergin’s claim against XPO. Fergin subsequently appealed both rulings.


Upon review by the Eighth Circuit, the appellate court first addressed the text of Carmack, noting that it limits claims brought by “the person entitled to recover under the receipt or bill of lading” and the text of the statute only applies to “the actual loss or injury to the property.” 49 U.S.C. § 14706(a)(1). Based on this language, and according to the receipt or bill of lading, only BD would have had a meritorious claim for actual loss or injury to their property. Although Fergin would not have been entitled to recover under the bill of lading, his claim was for his personal injuries, which Carmack’s text does not preempt.

The appellate court next analyzed United States Supreme Court precedent in determining whether Carmack’s preemptive effect had been expanded to include personal injury claims. It was determined that even if the preemptive effect had been expanded by case precedent, it had not expanded so far as to prevent Fergin’s personal injury claim. Rather, it was found that the Supreme Court had not abandoned its dicta from 1919, in which it stated, “the Carmack Amendment deals only with the shipment of property,” reinforcing Fergin’s right to bring a personal injury claim. Chi., Rock Island & Pac. Ry. Co. v. Maucher, 248 U.S. 359, 363 (1919).

Moreover, the harm-based and conduct based approaches of preemption under Carmack were fruitless because none of the other federal circuits had found that non-preempted claims included a third party’s personal injury claim. Furthermore, being that Fergin was not entitled to recover under the bill of lading and was not entitled to sue for loss of property, any application of the conduct-based approach would have extended Carmack beyond its text. For these reasons, the Eighth Circuit reversed the grants of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings, holding that Carmack did not preempt Fergin’s personal injury claim against the carriers.

Contact John F. Fatino for more information about trucking and transportation matters at (515) 288-6041.


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