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JAMES JOHNSON, JR., and ERICKA JOHNSON v. ABF FREIGHT SYSTEM, INC. and MARK EUGENE MASSINGILL
Case Number: 2:18-cv-01835-MHH
Judge: MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA
Court: UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
Birmingham, AL - Personal Injury lawyer represented Plaintiffs with alleging that ABF negligently trained, retained, and supervised Mr. Massingill and negligently entrusted a tractor-trailer truck to him claim.
The Johnsons allege that ABF negligently trained, retained, and supervised
Mr. Massingill and negligently entrusted a tractor-trailer truck to him. (Doc. 1-1,
pp. 7–8, ¶¶ 33–42). In Synergies3 Tec Servs., LLC v. Corvo, the Alabama Supreme
Court explained the principles underlying liability for an employer on a negligent
hiring, training, or supervision claim:
“‘In the master and servant relationship, the master is held responsible
for his servant’s incompetency when notice or knowledge, either actual
or presumed, of such unfitness has been brought to him. Liability
depends upon its being established by affirmative proof that such
incompetency was actually known by the master or that, had he
exercised due and proper diligence, he would have learned that which
would charge him in the law with such knowledge. It is incumbent on
the party charging negligence to show it by proper evidence. This may
be done by showing specific acts of incompetency and bringing them
home to the knowledge of the master, or by showing them to be of such
nature, character, and frequency that the master, in the exercise of due
care, must have had them brought to his notice. While such specific
acts of alleged incompetency cannot be shown to prove that the servant
was negligent in doing or omitting to do the act complained of, it is
proper, when repeated acts of carelessness and incompetency of a
certain character are shown on the part of the servant to leave it to the
jury whether they would have come to his knowledge, had he exercised
--- So. 3d ---, 2020 WL 4913636, at *9 (Ala. Aug. 21, 2020) (quoting Lane v. Central
Bank of Alabama, N.A., 425 So. 2d 1098, 1100 (Ala. 1983), in turn quoting
Thompson v. Havard, 235 So. 2d 853, 858 (Ala. 1970)).
Case 2:18-cv-01835-MHH Document 153 Filed 04/08/21 Page 3 of 6
Alabama law on negligent entrustment similarly requires knowledge of the
One who supplies directly or through a third person a chattel for the use
of another whom the supplier knows or has reason to know will be
likely because of his youth, inexperience, or otherwise, to use it in a
manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and
others whom the supplier should expect to share in or be endangered by
its use, is subject to liability for physical harm resulting to them.
Pryor v. Brown & Root USA, 674 So. 2d 45, 51 (Ala. 1995).
The Johnsons’ negligence claims against ABF fail under Alabama law
because the Johnsons have not demonstrated that ABF knew or had reason to know
that Mr. Massingill was not a competent driver. The evidence in the record shows
that before he began driving for ABF, Mr. Massingill completed a 160-hour driving
school, received his Class A Commercial Driver’s License, and passed a road test.
When ABF hired Mr. Massingill, he had no accidents reported in a commercial
vehicle. (Doc. 83-1, pp. 84, 88, 90; Doc. 53-1, p. 10).
About a year and a half before Mr. Massingill’s collision with Mr. Johnson,
Mr. Massingill had an accident in a parking lot. He pulled his trailer around a
building and clipped the grill of an unoccupied truck. (Doc. 83-1, pp. 16–17, tpp.
60–61). It is undisputed that ABF learned of that accident shortly after it happened.
The Johnsons argue that “when Mr. Massingill hit a completely stopped truck, that
Case 2:18-cv-01835-MHH Document 153 Filed 04/08/21 Page 4 of 6
showed he lacked even the basic competence required to drive,” and therefore ABF
knew that Mr. Massingill was incompetent to drive. (Doc. 123, p. 19). Alabama
law says otherwise.
Under Alabama law, “the incompetence of a driver is measured by the driver’s
demonstrated ability (or inability) to properly drive a vehicle.” Halford v. Alamo
Rent-A-Car, LLC, 921 So. 2d 409, 413–14 (Ala. 2005). The Alabama Supreme
Court has held that “[o]ne prior accident, standing alone, is not substantial evidence
of incompetence.” Edwards v. Valentine, 926 So. 2d 315, 324 (Ala. 2005) (citing
Thedford v. Payne, 813 So. 2d 905 (Ala. Civ. App. 2001)) (emphasis in Edwards).
In Edwards, the Alabama Supreme Court explained that the offending driver’s one
prior accident “could be considered by the trial court in conjunction with” other
evidence to establish incompetence, but one accident alone was not sufficient.
Edwards, 926 So. 2d at 324 (emphasis in Edwards). Here, Mr. Massingill struck an
unoccupied truck in a freight yard a year and a half before he struck Mr. Johnson’s
truck. The Johnsons point to no other evidence of Mr. Massingill’s incompetence.
Because the Johnsons have not identified a disputed question of fact regarding
ABF’s knowledge of Mr. Massingill’s alleged incompetence, the Johnsons may not
present their negligence claims against ABF to a jury. Accordingly, ABF is entitled
to summary judgment on the Johnsons’ negligence claims against the company.
Outcome: For the reasons above, the Court grants ABF’s motion for summary judgment
on the Johnsons’ claims of negligent training, supervision, retention, and
DONE and ORDERED this April 8, 2021.