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The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has truncated a New Jersey doctrine that holds trucking companies liable for injuries during loading and unloading of their vehicles, even when another party was negligent. The doctrine does not extend to a self-insured trucking company whose insurance plan is not certified in New Jersey, the court held on Dec. 18 in J.B. Hunt Transport v. USF Distribution Services. The ruling relieves J.B. Hunt Transport of liability for a $675,000 award to a shipping clerk injured unloading a truck at a Home Depot store in Dover, N.J., in 1999. The truck was loaded by USF Distribution, which operates a Philadelphia distribution center under contract with Home Depot. Herman Moller sued J.B. Hunt and USF, claiming back injuries that left him unable to work. USF settled for $675,000 in December 2002, and last March J.B. Hunt agreed to settle for the same amount. Then, J.B. Hunt filed a separate federal court suit in Philadelphia and won a declaratory judgment that it was not required to indemnify USF. On appeal, USF said J.B. Hunt was exploiting a “gap” in New Jersey’s insurance law by self-insuring its vehicles and registering and garaging them in other states. Last month, Judges Thomas Ambro, Julio Fuentes and Leonard Garth affirmed the declaratory judgment. They said the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Law, N.J.S.A. 39:6B-1 et seq., applies only to motor vehicles registered or principally garaged in New Jersey. The truck trailer in question was registered in Oklahoma and garaged in Pennsylvania. The appeals court also turned away USF’s claim that J.B. Hunt should be required to indemnify it under the “deemer” statute, N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4, which requires companies selling policies in New Jersey to provide the same level of coverage here as they do in other states. The judges found the statute doesn’t apply since J.B. Hunt is not an insurer transacting business in New Jersey. Finally, the court rejected USF’s claim that its loss be covered under the self-insurance statute, N.J.S.A. 39:6-52, since J.B. Hunt’s insurance is certified by the federal government, not New Jersey. J.B. Hunt’s lawyer, Timothy Abeel, a partner at Philadelphia’s Rawle & Henderson, says courts will now be obliged to scrutinize the facts of each case before requiring a motor carrier to pay damages simply because a loading or unloading injury occurred in New Jersey. The attorney for USF, Stephen Long of Drinker, Biddle & Reath in Florham Park, N.J., could not be reached for comment about the ruling.

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