Fuel Smarts

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Decide if Unloading is "Operating" A Trailer

December 04, 2000

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will consider whether or not loading and unloading a trailer is "operating or maintaining" a motor vehicle under the state’s workers’ compensation law.

The case stems from workers' comp claims collected by a Boise Cascade Office Products employee who was injured when the pallet truck he was using to unload a trailer struck a dock plate. The employee received workers' comp benefits for his injuries and also won $1.5 million in a negligence suit against the pallet truck supplier. Boise Cascade filed a petition for subrogation rights to the money, basically arguing that it had a right to some of the damage award since it had paid the workers’ comp claim.
The employee countered that Boise Cascade had no such rights, since his injuries occurred through the use and maintenance of a motor vehicle. Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law prohibits employers or their insurance companies from demanding subrogation of damages recovered from a third party if those damages occurred "out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle."
A lower court sided with Boise Cascade, ruling that the worker was injured by the machine he was operating inside the trailer, not by any use of the trailer itself.

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