Punitive Damages In Truck Accident Cases

The current economic climate in the U.S. trucking industry is where punitive damages in large truck collisions have their origin. Some trucking employers, in a push for profits and survival, demand their drivers to work the grueling 14‑hour days, 10 hours of which are behind the wheel. Some drivers are paid by the load. Some are paid by the mile. Some are paid by the trip.

To keep the trucks rolling, some new drivers are recruited through less‑than‑adequate truck‑driving schools. Corners are cut. Hours are expanded. Carnage and death follow. Every week more than 100 people lose their lives and hundreds more are severely injured in highway truck collisions.

When truck companies engage in outrageous and dangerous conduct, punitive damages in truck accident cases may be awarded.

A few quick facts, taken from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, provide a snapshot of the problem:

  • More than one out of every four trucks that are inspected on the roads today are put out of service.
  • One in every 12 drivers are taken off the roads by out‑of‑service inspections.
  • Worse yet, one in every 16 trucks that haul hazardous materials are pulled out of service by inspectors.
  • As unthinkable as it is to contemplate, more than half the truck crashes involve driver fatigue.
  • Every 16 minutes someone is killed or injured in accidents involving 18‑wheelers, tractor‑trailers, or semi‑trucks.
  • In 2001, 429,000 large trucks were involved in traffic crashes (both fatal and minor) in the United States:
    • 4,793 were involved in fatal crashes
    • 5,082 people died
    • 131,000 were injured
  • In 2003 58,412 total vehicle accidents occurred involving fatal crashes in the U.S.; 4,669 were large trucks involved in fatal truck accidents. Large trucks are more likely to be involved in a fatal multi‑vehicle crash than passenger vehicles are.
  • About 27 percent of all large truck drivers involved in fatal truck accidents throughout the United States had at least one prior speeding conviction compared to 19 percent of the passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes.
  • Between 1992 and 2002, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes has increased by up to 10 percent due to driver fatigue, unsafe vehicle operation, large unstable loads, or defective equipment.

When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded?

Punitive damages may be awarded if the truck driver or trucking company knew or had reason to know there was a high degree of probability that their action or failure to act would result in injury. In an auto accident involving a truck, the injured party must allege and prove facts that show the truck driver’s and/or trucking company’s complete indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others.

Both quality facts (e.g., the driver was driving 20 miles an hour over the speed limit in a school zone to meet a delivery deadline) and quantity of facts (e.g., the trucking company violated 15 screening requirements in hiring the driver) are the staples of punitive damage claims.

It may be possible to obtain punitive damages for truck driver fatigue against the trucking company when the trucking company condoned a violation of the driver’s hours‑of‑service requirements, may have had the practice of not keeping its tractor‑trailer units operating in a safe condition, or if the trucking company failed to properly screen its driver.

It may be possible to obtain punitive damages against the truck driver if he or she was intoxicated or using drugs at the time of the collision. Punitive damages may also be available if the truck driver was speeding or may have knowingly been operating a truck with a defective braking system.

Punitive Damages May Be a Substantial Part of A Damage Award

While not all cases will warrant punitive damages, in a case where punitive damages are awarded, they often comprise the major portion of the award.  In some instances, punitive damages may be higher than all other damages in the case combined.

For this reason, in every truck driving case, we conduct a thorough investigation in order to determine whether a case can be made for punitive damages.  If we find that a case for punitive damages does in fact exist, we will work vigorously towards presenting as strong of a case as possible as to why a jury should award punitive damages.

Are You Entitled to Punitive Damages?  Call Us to Learn More.

Call our firm to schedule a free private consultation at your convenience.  There is no obligation, and you will not owe us any fee unless we recover compensation for you.

As a lawyer for truck injury victims, I look forward to meeting with you and learning about your case if you have been injured in a truck crash or a family member has been killed, and to seeking on your behalf the maximum recovery possible from all of those who are responsible.  I can discuss whether your case is one in which a jury may consider the award of punitive damages.


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