Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack "erroneously" granted summary judgment in favor of Cassens & Sons of Edwardsville in an injury lawsuit brought by trucker Mark Graham, according to appellate court justices.
Graham sued Bostrom Seating, H.O. Bostrom, International Truck and Engine, Navistar, Cassens Corp., Cassens Transport and Cassens & Sons in 2005, claiming he was hurt by a defective seat.
Stack found that Cassens & Sons (CS) was not in the chain of distribution in the sale of the International truck upon which Graham's injury claim was based.
But in an opinion issued Wednesday, the Fifth District Appellate Court ruled that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding Cassens & Sons being within the distribution chain of the truck in question.
The court reversed Stack and remanded the case.
"The record contains a certificate of origin from International for the truck in question that names CS as the purchaser, an invoice from International reflecting that CS was the buyer of the truck in question for CT, and an invoice from CS indicating that it sold the same truck to CT approximately two months later," wrote Justice James Wexstten. "This evidence alone, construed strictly against CS and liberally in favor of the plaintiff, creates a question of material fact—whether CS participated in the chain of distribution for the truck in question."
Justice Melissa Chapman concurred in the opinion.
"By purchasing the truck and selling it to CT, CS was directly involved in the distribution of the truck, and we find that this 'participatory connection,' at a minimum, creates a material question of fact about whether CS should be held strictly liable," Wexstten wrote.
Cassens & Sons had argued that its only role in the sale of the truck was that of a "facilitator" or "paper shuffler" and that, therefore, it should not be held strictly liable.
"We disagree and find that material questions of fact exist about what exactly CS's role was in purchasing this truck," Wexstten wrote.
Justice Thomas Welch, wrote a strong dissent, stating he would have affirmed summary judgment in favor of Cassens & Sons.
"In my opinion there is no genuine issue of material fact on this question and CS is entitled to a summary judgment as a matter of law," Welch wrote.
Welch noted an affidavit filed in the case by a Cassens & Sons vice president, Clarence Brown, who had worked nearly 60 years for the company.
Among other things, the affidavit states, "CS's only involvement with the purchase, sale, or lease of any such truck was limited to handling routine transactional tasks such as turning out the required documents for the transfer or acquisition of Illinois title, mailing or delivering those documents to appropriate recipients, handling the transfer of funds from the trailer purchaser to the manufacturer, and assigning certificates of origin to the truck purchaser," Welch wrote.
"In my opinion the exhibits attached to CS's motion for a summary judgment are more than sufficient to meet CS's initial burden on a motion for summary judgment," Welch wrote.
"The majority posits that the invoices, which show a 'sale' of the truck by CS to CT (Cassens Transport), are sufficient alone to create a question of material fact about whether CS participated in the chain of distribution. Perhaps alone they are sufficient to create a question of fact, but when viewed in conjunction with Brown's affidavit, there is no genuine issue of material fact."
Graham is represented by Thomas Maag and Brian Wendler of Wendler Law in Edwardsville.
Cassens & Sons is represented by Pam Triplett of St. Louis.
Steve Szewczyk of Reed, Armstrong, Gorman, Mudge and Morrissey of Edwardsville appeared for Cassens & Sons at oral arguments.