Car accidents can be traumatic and result in significant injuries and high medical bills. Sometimes, the at fault driver is underinsured and may not be collectible beyond insurance limits. In such cases, injured parties must ensure that they seek damages from all at fault parties. Two keys to such an approach, are timely pleading the appropriate theories of liability against such additional parties, and also making sure that the facts support the claims.
In the case of Bowman v. Benouttas, et al., Ms. Bowman's car was struck by a tractor-trailer driven by an independent owner operator, Mr. Benouttas. Benouttas was hauling a load as an independent contractor for MGR Freight Systems, Inc. MGR, in turn was hauling the load on a contractual basis for AllStates Trucking, Inc., who was first hired by the shipping party.
In other words: Shipper to AllStates to MGR to Benouttas.
Bowman, the injured Plaintiff, sued Benouttas, MGR, and AllStates. When she filed her complaint, Bowman asserted theories of negligence against Benouttas and that MGR/AllStates were also vicariously liable under agency and joint venture theories. Over two years of litigation and discovery followed and towards the end of the written motion for summary judgment stage (i.e. to dismiss unwarranted claims in light of the facts elicited), Bowman sought to amend her complaint adding additional claims against MGR and AllStates including implied partnership, loaned servant doctrine, vicarious liability for an independent contractor, and negligent hiring. The trial court denied this motion finding that it was too late in the case and further, dismissed AllStates from the case based on the theories actually plead by Bowman.
The appellate court decision is quite lengthy and includes an analysis of the dismissed claims. However, for the purpose of this article, the procedural step of denying the motion to amend so late in the case highlights the importance of timely pleading all available claims, and if the facts show that additional claims are warranted, then to promptly seek leave to amend the complaint.
Based on the facts discussed surrounding the relationship of the three parties, it would have been interesting to know how the court would have viewed the untimely offered new claims at the written motion stage. However, since the motion to amend was filed so late in the case, the prejudice to the defendants outweighed Bowman's right to have those claims heard.