McEntyre v. Sam’s East, Inc.

Georgia Supreme Court Clarifies Liability Standard for Claims Against Loaders for the Failure to Properly Secure a Load to a Vehicle


OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b)(1) provides that “No person shall operate or load for operation, on any public road, any vehicle with any load unless such load and any covering is securely fastened so as to prevent such covering or load from: (1) Becoming loose, detached, or in any manner becoming a hazard to other users of the public road.” The case McEntire v. Sam’s East involves certified questions to the Supreme Court of Georgia as it relates to duty, liability, and Georgia Tort Law in general. 

In February 2016, Mary Louise McCall purchased two mattresses and box springs from a Sam’s Club store in Albany, Georgia (the store was operated by Sam’s East). Two store employees helped Ms. McCall by putting the items in her truck bed – there was a dispute as to whether the employees tied mattresses and box springs down or whether they just placed them into the truck bed. After leaving the store, one of the mattresses fell from Ms. McCall’s truck onto the roadway, and driver Amanda McEntyre hit the mattress, suffering serious injuries to her neck and shoulder. Ms. McEntyre filed a lawsuit against Ms. McCall, which was settled. She also filed a personal injury suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia against the Sam’s East, alleging negligence and negligence per se and seeking punitive damages.

Issues and Holdings

Sam’s East filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Ms. McEntyre filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment. The US District Court then stayed the proceedings and certified these questions to the Supreme Court of Georgia:

  1. Does OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b)(1) require a person who is assisting the operator of a vehicle to load merchandise onto said vehicle to “securely fasten” the load to the vehicle? 
  2. Under OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b)(1), would a person who assists in loading or securing a load to a vehicle but is not operating the vehicle be liable to a third party who is injured while the vehicle is in operation on a public road as a result of the load becoming loose, detached, or in any manner . . . a hazard to other users of the public road? 
  3. Under OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b)(1), does the occurrence of a load becoming loose, detached, or in any manner . . . a hazard to other users of the public road necessarily mean that the load was not securely fastened? That is to say, is OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b)(1) a strict liability statute?

In March 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court interpreted OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b)(1) and answered the certified questions. The Court concluded:

  1. OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b) imposes a duty on a person assisting the operator of a vehicle with loading merchandise onto the vehicle to securely fasten the load; 
  2. a person assisting in loading a vehicle may be liable in tort for injuries to a third party resulting from a breach of his or her duty to secure that load (and any covering thereon); and 
  3. when serving as the basis for a civil tort suit, a violation of OCGA § 40-6-248.1(b)(1) is subject to ordinary tort principles and defenses.


On the question of whether the statute imposes strict liability, the Supreme Court noted that strict liability is confined to abnormally dangerous activities and other situations where the General Assembly has expressly enacted a strict liability statute, such as in the product liability context. There was nothing in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-248.1 that indicated it was intended to impose strict liability. As a result, the Supreme Court held that this statute still required application of traditional negligence principles and defenses. 

Under traditional proximate cause principles, the Supreme Court held that “a defendant who is not an operator of the vehicle but assists in loading can only be liable for failing to securely fasten the load in light of the reasonably foreseeable ways in which the load will be transported on a public road.” In making this determination, the Court stated that the factfinder may have to assess a number of factors including but not limited to the defendant’s knowledge regarding the nature of the load and the vehicle, road or weather conditions, the operator’s representations about the vehicle’s destination, the length of the drive, or anything else that might affect the loader’s assessment of whether the load was “securely fastened.” Further, it is possible that a defendant could satisfy his or her duty to secure the load only for that load to later become unsecured in some unforeseeable manner or due to some intervening cause after the defendant is no longer in a position to ensure the safety of the load.

Thus, while O.C.G.A. § 40-6-248.1 does apply to a non-operator who is assisting in loading an object, the statute does not automatically impose liability. Each case will rise or fall depending on its own facts, including a number of factors related to the proximate cause element.


For the Court’s full legal analysis and case citations in McEntyre v. Sam’s East, Inc. 313 Ga. 429, you can read the full summary online. 

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Citation: McEntyre v. Sam’s East, Inc., S21Q0909 (S. Ct. Ga. Mar. 8, 2022)

About the Author

Darl Champion is an award-winning personal injury lawyer serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. He is passionate about ensuring his clients are fully compensated when they are harmed by someone’s negligence. Learn more about Darl here.