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Conley v. Alaska Communications Systems Holdings, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alaska

May 9, 2014

BRETT CONLEY and MARINA CONLEY, Appellants and Cross-Appellees,
v.
ALASKA COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS HOLDINGS, INC., Appellee and Cross-Appellant

Page 1132

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Frank A. Pfiffner, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-09-04739 CI.

Michael W. Flanigan, Flanigan & Bataille, Anchorage, for Appellants and Cross-Appellees.

Richard W. Maki and David H. Shoup, Tindall Bennett & Shoup, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellee and Cross-Appellant.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers and Maassen, Justices. [Carpeneti, Justice, not participating.]. FABE, Chief Justice, dissenting.

OPINION

Page 1133

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A tractor-trailer driver was injured while unloading cargo. The driver sued the receiving company for damages, arguing that the company negligently trained its forklift operator, the operator was negligent, and the operator caused his injuries. A jury found the company was negligent, but also found that the negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the driver's injuries. The driver appeals, arguing that the superior court erred by admitting propensity evidence regarding his safety record; denying a res ipsa loquitur instruction; and denying motions for directed verdict, judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and a new trial. We affirm the superior court's rulings.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

In 2007 Brett Conley drove a tractor-trailer for Lynden Transport, Inc. While working for Lynden, Conley delivered two reels of innerduct to the Alaska Communications Systems (ACS) equipment yard in Anchorage. Danisa Rudolph, an ACS warehouse employee, operated the forklift to unload the reels from the Lynden trailer. ACS protocol called for Rudolph, as the forklift operator, to hold a " toolbox meeting" with Conley to advise him how she intended to conduct the lift and what his role would be. Rudolph did not hold the meeting.

Conley signaled Rudolph to begin unloading. Rudolf placed the forks under one of the reels on the trailer and lifted the reel, but it is unclear whether she fully tilted the load back so that the reel would rest against the forklift mast. Conley signaled Rudolph to back up. She backed up approximately six to eight feet and began lowering the reel to the ground.

Conley signaled Rudolph to stop and he began removing the chain that ran through the reel's opening back to the trailer. Despite having been trained not to do so, Conley stepped in front of the reel while removing the chain. As Conley pulled the chain,

Page 1134

the reel began to tilt toward him. He tried to steady the reel, but it was too big; as he turned around to get out of the way, the reel fell onto his lower back. Conley suffered three fractured ribs, a punctured lung, a ...


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