Trailer gates leave trucking company undone

HRX TPT bears brunt of damages 10 years after crushing incident

Trailer gates leave trucking company undone
An image of the gates from the court ruling


A loader has won his personal injury case after being crushed by eight trailer gates weighing 300kg in total and a trucking company has been given the burden of a large majority of the compensation.

The Ceva employee was working on the trailer near a loading dock at the Somerton depot of South Pacific Tyres (SPT) when the 2007 incident occurred.

Ceva, which admitted duty-of-care liability, was contracted to provide logistic services to SPT.

The tautliner trailer was owned and operated by the HRX, which had a transport contract with SPT.

The Supreme Court of Victoria case – before judge Michael McDonald, who recently heard the Victoria Intermodal Container Terminal (VICT) injunction case against unions – hinged on whether HRX TPT had a duty of care and, if so, had breached it.

The central issue as to the liability of HRX concerns the manner in which the eight gates were secured.

The loader argued that:

  • the usual practice was for the gates to be tied off in bundles of two to three at a time, and that as each bundle was untied the gates would be individually removed and positioned along the inside of the trailer
  • on the morning of January 31, 2007, the eight gates were secured by only one rope which had been lashed across the front of all eight gates
  • as soon as he untied the single rope securing the gates, all of them fell on him.

The judge found this to be the case.

The court heard that in the year before the incident, Ceva had told HRX that its drivers were to no longer be involved in loading and that drivers would have to sleep in their trucks while their trailers were loaded.

HRX argued it was not the employer, principal, sub-contractor or in any other way responsible for the how loading occurred and that how the gates were handled after the trailer was emptied was not under its control.

Rather it was Ceva’s responsibility.

HRX also noted unfastening work had been carried out by HRX drivers at the SPT Depot from at around November 2003 until November 2007 without reported injury or incidents from the sudden collapse of a stack of gates.

This was rejected as an argument against it having a duty of care as it had control over how all the gates were tied, with just one rope, in the first place.

"HRX owed a duty of care to secure the gates so as not to expose any person untying them to an unreasonable risk of injury," the judge finds, especially as that risk was "patently foreseeable".

Including the statutory maximum of $598,360 for pain and suffering and $1,374,370 for economic loss, the total awarded was $1,374,370.

This was split 35 per cent to Ceva and 65 per cent to HRX but it was to be adjusted to take account of compensation payments of approximately $430,000 which have been received since January 2007.


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