Randall Sickler and Nicholas Grant of Ebeltoft . Sickler . Lawyers . PLLC recently obtained summary judgment for their client, Werner Enterprises, Inc. In March 2009, during a blizzard, a tractor-trailer accident occurred near Hillsboro, North Dakota. The accident resulted in a fatality, as well as injuries to the local sheriff. The sheriff and his wife commenced suit in Traill County, North Dakota, against the driver and motor carrier. After the insurance company for the motor carrier was liquidated, the plaintiffs amended the Complaint to join Werner as a defendant. Werner also owned the trailer being towed at the time of the accident.
Plaintiffs alleged that Werner was the “statutory employer” of the driver under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations, and that the driver, carrier, and Werner were all engaged in a joint venture. Sickler and Grant immediately moved for summary judgment on all of the plaintiffs’ claims against it. The Court agreed with Sickler and Grant, awarding Werner summary judgment on all of plaintiffs’ theories of liability. The judge found that Werner had no employer-employee relationship with the driver, disregarding the plaintiffs’ arguments that Werner was a “statutory employer” of the driver and that Werner had retained control over the driver. The judge also found that there was no joint venture, as the Broker-Carrier Agreement expressly disclaimed such a relationship. The judge further stated the only reasonable conclusion was that Werner was contracting with the motor carrier for carrier services, and not engaging in a joint venture.