The terms of 49 C.F.R. § 396.3(a) impose an obligation on an owner to maintain a commercial vehicle. They do not excuse a prior owner from the consequences of its negligence during the time it owned the motor vehicle. The regulation implies that an owner has a duty to maintain the vehicle in a safe condition during the time it owns it.
Plaintiff, an injured party, challenged a decision from the Oregon Court of Appeals, which affirmed a trial court's decision to grant defendant seller's motion to dismiss a negligence claim. The wheels of a tractor-trailer came off and struck the injured party's vehicle. The truck had been sold to another a year before the accident. The injured party alleged that the seller was negligent in failing to follow the recommended maintenance regarding the rear axle assembly and bearings. The complaint was dismissed, and the court of appeals affirmed.
Did the seller’s defense of another party owning the tractor-trailer that caused plaintiff’s injury a year prior to the incident remove the seller from liability?
In reversing, the supreme court determined that the seller's defense was that another party owned the tractor-trailer for approximately a year before the accident occurred. This was not enough to show as a matter of law that the seller was not responsible for the consequences of its negligence. Neither 49 C.F.R. § 396.3(a) nor Or. Rev. Stat. § 815.020(1)(b) excused the seller from its negligence. Next, the fact that the subsequent owner had a duty to inspect, repair, and maintain the vehicle did not relieve the seller of its responsibilities. This was consistent with the holdings in the Hills case and the general rule that the failure of a third person to act to prevent harm to another threatened by the actor's negligent conduct did not excuse the actor from responsibility for his or her own negligence. Finally, arguments relating to foreseeability and an intervening cause were rejected. The decisions of the court of appeals and the trial court were reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.