Driver to pay employer $550,000 over crash damages

Truck rollover found to be caused by illegal mobile phone use

Driver to pay employer $550,000 over crash damages
The civil case saw the driver breach their duty of care to the company

A truck driver has been ordered to pay nearly $550,000 to Blenners Transport in a civil case over truck and goods damages caused by a crash while using a mobile phone.

The District Court of Queensland found William Dowling breached his duty of care to the company by illegally using his mobile device, failing to pay due care and attention, and losing control of the truck causing loss and damage to the goods and the truck.

A labour-hire driver with more than 30 years’ experience, Dowling completed inductions in late 2018 that included disciplinary actions regarding mobile phone use.

On September 18, 2019, he received a call while driving on the Bruce Highway south of Ingham.

In-cabin monitoring showed him failing to connect with a Bluetooth earpiece before looking down for about two seconds to swipe the phone with one hand, with the other on the steering wheel.

The truck veered left at about 97km/h as the roadway fell away steeply, with the driver trying unsuccessfully to correct the truck before it continued off the side of the road and rolled before stopping to a rest.

The driver suffered serious injuries while the truck was severely damaged and load of fresh fruit destroyed.

Judge Dean Morzone noted the case was "unusual", as "whilst, ordinarily, an employer is vicariously liable for the negligent, wrongful or criminal it’s [sic] employee, there is no bar to an impacted third party suing the employee directly. The defendant is capable of being sued by the . . . plaintiffs."

"The duty was to take reasonable care to keep the truck and goods safe, and once the truck and goods are shown to have suffered damage whilst in his possession, the defendant has the burden of showing that the loss or damage occurred without his neglect, default or misconduct."

Other news involving Blenners Transport can be found here

Morzone rejected claims from the driver, who was self-represented, citing technology shortfalls around hands-free technology and lane departure warning; that he was put under pressure to forsake rest breaks in order to meet driving schedules; and that the company did not ensure the trucks were not overloaded.

"The defendant argues that the plaintiffs somehow imposed pressure to forsake rest breaks in order to meet driving schedules and induced cumulative fatigue.

"This is not supported by the first plaintiff’s policy guidelines or his purported compliance with them."

On lane-departure warnings: "The plaintiffs accept that none of its fleet are fitted with such warning systems, and denies any obligation to do so.

"While desirable, in the absence of an established industry standard, I am not persuaded that either the first or second plaintiff was duty bound to install departure warning and prevention technology in the truck.

"In any event, on my reckoning of the reaction time of less than 2 seconds, disclosed by the CCTV footage, I do not accept that a lane departure warning would have made any difference."

Further, Morzone accepted company evidence that "neither trailer exceeded the regulated weight limit".

"The defendant’s use of his mobile phone was illegal. He was convicted of the offence.

"I do not accept that any factor, other than the defendant’s neglect, default or misconduct by using the mobile phone, caused or contributed to the crash."

Dowling was ordered to pay $545,312.25, split $508,633.25 for the truck damage and $36,679 for the cargo, with further costs and interest.


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