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Aragon v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 13, 2013

Benny ARAGON, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, doing business as Walmart Distribution Center Number 6077; Pallet Companies, Inc., doing business as IFCO Systems, N.A., Defendants-Appellees.

Submitted: Sept. 26, 2013.

Page 808

Amanda Jo Montee, argued, Russell C. Purvis, on the brief, of Saint Joseph, MO, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Robbye Toft, argued, of Saint Louis, MO, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before WOLLMAN, SMITH, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

Benny Aragon was injured when pallets fell onto him from a trailer, breaking his leg and ankle. He appeals from the district court's [1] entry of summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (Wal-Mart), and Pallet Companies, Inc., doing business as IFCO Systems, N.A. (IFCO), on his negligence claim. We affirm.[2]

I.

Aragon had been driving commercial motor vehicles for more than thirty years and was experienced in securing loads with load locks, load bars, and straps. Although he had never before hauled plastic pallets, Aragon had hauled numerous loads of wooden pallets during his career and had used straps or load locks to secure the cargo to prevent it from shifting backwards during transport. Aragon owned load locks and always kept them in the tractor he was driving. According to Aragon, ninety percent of the pallets he had hauled were shrink wrapped.

After a period of driving independently, Aragon began driving for J.B. Hunt Transports, Inc. (Hunt). Hunt provided Aragon with three straps that Aragon used to secure loads. The Hunt straps had clips that attached to the interior sides of Hunt box trailers. While working for Hunt, Aragon was assigned to pick up a box trailer containing shrink-wrapped pallets of reusable plastic containers (RPCs) from Wal-Mart's distribution facility in Moberly, Missouri, and deliver the trailer to IFCO's facility in Bolingbrook, Illinois. IFCO hired Unyson Logistics to coordinate the transportation of its RPCs. Unyson in turn brokered to Hunt the haulage of IFCO's RPCs. IFCO and Unyson had a written agreement that included Carrier Guidelines requiring carriers to supply box trailers for transporting the RPCs and to supply either two load locks or straps for securing the load. Hunt adopted the Carrier Guidelines when it accepted Unyson's offer to act as the carrier of IFCO's RPCs.

On October 7, 2010, Aragon arrived at the Moberly distribution center. He proceeded to the Wal-Mart dispatch office, where he was informed about the location of the box trailer and was given the bill of lading. Aragon located the box trailer that was owned by Hunt and that had been loaded by IFCO. Aragon maintains that the trailer was sealed with a yellow plastic seal. Aragon did not inspect or secure the load before hooking the trailer to his tractor. After securing the trailer to his tractor, Aragon drove to the gate of the distribution center. Aragon testified that either he or the security guard broke the seal on the trailer and that Aragon opened the trailer's four-foot-wide right door. Aragon then looked inside the trailer and observed the shrink-wrapped pallets on the trailer's right side. Aragon saw that there were neither straps nor load locks securing the pallets. He did not open the left door of the trailer.

The security guard verified that Aragon had the correct trailer and that the trailer

Page 809

contained the cargo indicated on the bill of lading. Aragon did not inquire about the securement of the load, and he alleges that no one from Hunt, Wal-Mart, or IFCO instructed him regarding the securement of the pallets. After Aragon viewed the load, he closed the trailer door and either he or the security guard sealed the trailer with a second seal. Aragon did not break the second seal or open the trailer doors during the 380-mile drive to Bolingbrook.

Aragon testified that he broke the trailer's seal when he arrived at the Bolingbrook facility. As Aragon opened the left trailer door, pallets fell onto him, knocking him down and causing his injuries. Aragon cannot recall whether an IFCO ...


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