Who checked the back of the truck?

Case Note: Nominal Defendant v Garside & Ors [2019] QCA 270

Early in the morning on 25 November 2014 Glenn Garside was riding his motorcycle along Gregory Highway – at approximately 100kph. He was travelling behind a bus, which was travelling behind a truck. When he felt it was safe to, Mr Garfield moved into the centre of the road so he could overtake the bus and the truck. As he did he saw a hard object fall off the truck, bounce behind the truck, and then fly into his motorbike and hit his knee. He was able to keep control of the bike and pull over, but he was still severely injured. 

The problem was no one else saw what the object was or where it came from. Mr Garside gave evidence that the truck had the label “JJ Richards” on it, and brought proceedings against JJ Richards & Sons Ltd (through its CTP insurer) as well three drivers who could potentially have been driving trucks at that point on that route. In the alternative, he argued that the Nominal Defendant was liable for his injuries. 

The court accepted that a large, grey object “about half the size of a brick” had flown up from the ground and hit Mr Garside. The court also found that it was probable that it came from the truck that was driving in front of the bus. The questions it then had to answer were whose truck was it? And were they negligent? And if so, how much should they pay? 

The court found that none of the drivers listed were driving the truck at the time, and that JJ Richards was not the owner of the truck in question. In the absence of a known owner or driver, the claim had to be brought against the Nominal Defendant. The court also had little difficulty in determining the value of the claim – $723,761.64. 

The only question was whether the object flew into Mr Garfield because of someone’s negligence? In other words, who actually checked the back of the truck to make sure it was safe to be on the road? And did they miss something?

The Nominal Defendant was adamant that there was insufficient evidence that the injuries were caused by negligence. After all, even if the object fell from a truck there was no way to know how it got there, or that whoever was driving the truck was negligent. The court disagreed. The court decided that, based on the evidence of the drivers who testified, it was the standard practice for drivers of trucks to do a full safety inspection before starting a shift precisely because they know that there are things that get left around the outside of the truck– tools, materials, anything that was lying around when the truck was in the yard. The court noted that every driver who testified said they did this inspection in the morning, at the start of the shift. 

The court found that, since every driver did this check, whoever did the check for whatever truck was on the highway knew about the risk. It also found that because the injury happened in the early morning, at the start of the shift, it was probable that whatever had fallen was present when the truck left the yard, and therefore whoever was driving along the Gregory Highway had been negligent in their inspection of the truck. It ordered that the Nominal Defendant pay the full $723,761.64.to the Plaintiff, and this decision was upheld when the Nominal Defendant appealed to the Supreme Court of Queensland Court of Appeal. 

The take away for anyone on the road is simple – check nothing is on your vehicle. High speed objects, even small ones, can cause serious damage. It also shows that even if you can’t find out who or what caused your accident, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a claim.

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