Fire-damaged trailer TNT's own fault

TNT tried to hold its sub-contractor, Western Freight Management, responsible for a trailer that caught fire. A court ruled differently

Fire-damaged trailer TNT's own fault
Fire-damaged trailer TNT's own fault

By Brad Gardner | November 17, 2011

TNT has been told to cover the repair costs of its damaged trailer after a NSW court rejected the operator’s bid to hold its sub-contractor, Western Freight Management, liable.

District Court Judge Kevin Coorey this week ruled Western Freight Management had no case to answer when the TNT-owned trailer its driver was hauling caught fire on the New England Highway in 2007. The court heard that an overheated braking system caused the wheel to ignite.

Both companies signed a cartage contract in 2007 that held Western Freight Management responsible for any loss or damage to TNT’s trailer. A clause in the contract relieved the sub-contractor of any liability if the fault stemmed from an act or omission of TNT.

In his written judgement, Coorey laid blame squarely at the feet of TNT for the damage after fleet manager David Flaherty revealed the company did not follow its guidelines to service the trailer every three weeks.

"I am satisfied on the evidence that the subject trailer had not undergone any service in the two months before the accident," Coorey says.

"It is significant that this particular trailer had some history of electronic braking system faults: it is not determinative but it is relevant in relation to the plaintiff’s failure to follow its own servicing requirements."

Coorey says the three-weekly service would have checked the wheel bearings, hub seals, brake lining, slack adjusters and brakes. The trailer was serviced on August 29, with the incident happening on October 29.

SX Trailers service manager Stephen Purser, whose company services TNT’s trailers, told the court slack adjusters should be inspected every four weeks to prevent brakes from over-applying and creating excessive heat.

"I am satisfied that there are two possible causes of the fire – poorly adjusted brakes or lack of lubrication. I am satisfied that the plaintiff failed to comply with its own servicing regime and the servicing requirement of Mr Purser," Coorey says.

While saying the three-weekly inspection might not have detected the problems that caused the trailer to catch fire, the judge added that is likely regular inspections would have addressed the matter.

"It does not matter which problem caused the fire because each arises from the plaintiff’s failure to inspect and maintain the vehicle," he says.
TNT was also ordered to pay Western Freight Management’s court costs.

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