In McClure v. Sunshine Furniture, 2012 OK CIV APP 67, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals recently reversed an order granting summary judgment to a furniture company which had loaded furniture onto a pickup truck. The furniture fell off, causing a collision with the debris and another vehicle behind it. It’s not the first time cargo has fallen from the back of a pick-up truck and caused injuries to motorists who happen to be trailing along behind the truck. If you’re the one who loaded the truck, you could be liable for the resulting injuries, even if you weren’t driving it. Summary judgment was granted for the furniture company — on the theory that first of all, the furniture company didn’t owe a duty, and secondly because there was no evidence of breach of duty.
Reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, the Court of Civil Appeals said that the existence of a duty may be derived from foreseeability: “The duty to exercise ordinary care to prevent injury evolves upon anyone without regard to the legal relationship between the parties, whenever the circumstances are such that an ordinarily prudent person could reasonably apprehend that by the natural and probable consequences of his act, another person, rightfully there, will be in danger of receiving an injury.” Nye v. Cox, 1968 OK 50, 440 P.2d 683 (Syl. 3). Secondly, the breach of duty does not require direct evidence but may be established by circumstantial evidence; “a plaintiff may prove negligence by circumstantial or direct evidence of acts from which negligence may be inferred without the aid of res ipsa loquitur.”