Kentucky Statute of Limitations in a Tractor Trailer Injury Case

by Mandy Hicks

Negligence lawsuits in Kentucky must be brought within the applicable statute of limitations. There are several causes of action under which recovery may be possible, but if you fail to bring your lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations, you may not be able to proceed. There may only be a small window of time within which you can file suit. An experienced Kentucky personal injury attorney can help determine the appropriate method of recovery and applicable statute of limitations.

In a 2011 case, the Kentucky Supreme Court considered whether a 1-year personal injury statute of limitations or the Motor Vehicle Reparations Act (MVRA) 2-year statute of limitations applied in the case of a man who was hurt as a tractor-trailer was being unloaded. The plaintiff was a contract truck driver at the time.

On the day before the accident, the plaintiff was picking up aluminum bundles in Iowa that he planned to deliver in Kentucky. They were loaded into two stacks with three layers each. By the next day, the load had shifted. A forklift operator began unloading. The plaintiff was helping to roll up unattached straps. A bundle of aluminum hit the plaintiff. As a result of his injuries, he wasn’t able to work for 6 months.

Thirteen months later, the plaintiff filed an action. The defendants filed for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff did not file the lawsuit within the 1-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions. The motion was granted. In its ruling, the trial court said that the 2-year statute of limitations period, relied upon by the plaintiff, did not apply. This was because the language of the statute excluded those injuries that occurred while loading or unloading, unless the injury happened while in the vehicle, entering the vehicle or getting out of it.

The decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals, which found that the 2-year statute applied because the plaintiff had been unrolling straps, not unloading.

The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed to review the case. It explained that an earlier case relied upon by the trial court was factually similar. In the earlier case, a man was injured when a log rolled off his truck and hit him as he unfastened a chain.

The Court in that case found the man was not ‘using’ his vehicle because what he was doing was an action integral to the act of unloading, which was specifically excluded from coverage. The issue in that case was whether the driver was entitled to recover basic reparation benefits (BRB).

In this case, the plaintiff argued that Motor Vehicle Reparations tort liability coverage was broader than the Basic Reparation Benefits coverage at issue in the earlier case. He also argued that, because he was paid Basic Reparations Benefits, his claim should automatically fall within the MVRA limitations period.

The Kentucky Supreme Court acknowledged the statutory language was broad. But it also explained that the plain language stated that engaging in activity that was integral to unloading would not be considered a covered “use” for which benefits would be available.

Analyzing whether the plaintiff was actually unloading his truck in unrolling straps, the Court explained that rolling the straps was integral to unloading. If the plaintiff had not released the straps, the bundles could not be unloaded.

Similarly, after the straps were removed, it was necessary for the plaintiff to roll them. Therefore, the trial court correctly applied the one-year personal injury statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions found in KRS 413.140(1)(a). The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the trial court’s order granting summary judgment.

If you are seriously hurt in a tractor trailer accident or other incident associated with a motor vehicle, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to determine whether any relief is available to you. The knowledgeable Kentucky personal injury attorneys of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley may be able to help you. Contact us at 270-781-6500 or via our online form.