Joseph Dudas v. William Glass: A supervisor who fell off of a loading dock trying to shut the back door of a double tractor-trailer was unable to convince a jury the truck driver who pulled away from the dock was legally responsible for his permanent shoulder injury.

On Sept. 30, 2008, at about 8:30 p.m., William Glass, a truck driver at Con-way Freight was getting ready to pull out of the loading dock at a company terminal in Bridgeport.

Glass’ lawyer, Steven Malitz, of LeClairRyan in Hartford, explained the first trailer on a rig is called the lead trailer, while the second trailer is called the kite. Glass began to pull away from the loading dock when Joseph Dudas, a freight operations supervisor, noticed the kite door was still open.

“[Dudas] walks over briskly to close the door, puts his hand on the strap to pull the door down and the truck pulls away,” said Malitz. “He gets pulled off the dock, which is five feet off the ground. He falls to the ground and lands on his right shoulder, creating a very large tear of the rotator cuff.”

Malitz said Dudas had signed off on the truck driver’s departure even though he hadn’t noticed the door open on the back.

“Based on the protocols and customs in place with how things got done at the terminal, it’s always the supervisor’s duty to pull that door down before the driver’s dock,” said Malitz. “[The company's] operations manual, which detailed the duties of a supervisor, basically confirmed it was the supervisor’s responsibility.”

Malitz said Dudas argued that other Con-way documents and industry practices recommend truck drivers themselves check the back door.

Malitz explained Dudas continued working as a freight operations supervisor until November 2008, when he was terminated for unrelated reasons. After he lost his job, Dudas began medical treatment for his shoulder injury. Doctors determined he needed surgery to repair the rotator cuff.

Since that time, Malitz said Dudas hasn’t worked other than a brief stint with the U.S. Census Bureau.

Dudas, who now lives in Florida, was represented by John J. Kennedy and Louis Annecchino, of Kennedy, Johnson, Schwab & Roberge in New Haven. Kennedy declined comment for this article.

Malitz said the lawsuit was filed under a motor vehicle injury exception to the workers’ compensation rule, which generally prevents employees from suing their employers. Though Con-way was not a named defendant, Glass was sued for negligence.

“Con-way was not a named defendant, but it was their case,” said Malitz. “They felt very strongly their employee didn’t do anything wrong here. We felt as their outside counsel their behavior was not negligent.”

Efforts to mediate the case late last year before Judge Antonio Robaina were unsuccessful. The case went to trial in April before Judge Edward Domnarski in Middlesex Superior Court.

The plaintiff’s lawyers argued the shoulder injury left Dudas unable to perform the same job he had held with Con-way, and other employers would not be eager to hire someone his age—early 60s—and with shoulder limitations, especially in this tough economy. Though truck driver supervisors do little physical labor, the plaintiff’s lawyers argued once in a while there is some lifting involved.

Malitz, meanwhile, argued that Dudas proved he could work with a bum shoulder since he had already done so for a couple months after the incident. “Our contention was if you were able to work and do your job for two months after the accident, and this was before he had treatment, why couldn’t you go back to work within a reasonable amount of time after you had surgery?” said Malitz. “That was obviously a major back and forth at trial.”

The defense also presented a vocational expert who said there had been numerous job openings for freight operations supervisors since late 2008 for which Dudas was seemingly qualified.

Malitz said the plaintiff initially sought $950,000 to settle the case. Malitz offered only $50,000. “The plaintiff did come down a lot on that $950,000 demand but not enough to motivate my client to settle the case prior to trial,” said Malitz.

At trial, Kennedy did not ask the jury for a specific amount of money but noted the plaintiff’s medical bills were about $80,000 and said his past pain and suffering was worth around $200,000. Kennedy told jurors he would leave them to decide future damages.

That became a moot point. After about a week of testimony and deliberations of under one hour, the jury rendered a defense verdict.

In the end, Malitz thinks the jury found the truck driver simply wasn’t at fault for Dudas’ shoulder injury.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think the jury ever got to damages,” said Malitz, who was assisted by Kate Boucher, also of LeClairRyan. “That’s speculation on my part,” said Malitz, “but the jury deliberated for less than an hour.”•