Punitive Damages Against Trucking Companies Involving Truck Driver Fatigue

Truck drivers and trucking companies must follow Federal trucking rules and regulations in connection with their operations.  These rules and regulations are designed first and foremost with safety in mind.

When truck drivers and truck companies fail to follow these rules and regulations in a substantial and material manner, such as through an ongoing pattern of non-compliance, courts and juries may award punitive damages against trucking companies, particularly in cases involving truck driver fatigue.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are over and above the damages that an individual may have sustained, such as lost earnings, pain and suffering, and hospital bills.  Punitive damages are not designed to compensate the injured for their loss (although the individual does receive the punitive damages award); instead, punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer for an unacceptable level of misconduct.

When punitive damages are awarded, it is a message to others in society that if they engage in the same type of misconduct as the defendant, they too may face huge damages.  The goal of punitive damages is thus to eliminate outrageous conduct in the future.

Punitive Damages Cases Arising From Hours of Service Violations

Truck driving companies face potential liability that can be assessed against them in connection with hours of service violations and truck driver fatigue.

In one case, the plaintiff and two other persons were killed when a tractor‑trailer struck the rear end of their vehicle.  At the time of the accident, the weather was clear, visibility was good, and there was no evidence that the truck driver took any evasive action or used his brakes prior to drifting into the emergency lane and striking the stalled vehicle.

At the time of the impact, the truck was going 65 mph and the truck driver, according to the police, appeared fatigued. Importantly, the driver’s log book had not been updated for approximately two days before the collision

After trial the jury awarded $10 million in punitive damages against the motor carrier for its gross negligence in allowing a fatigued truck driver to operate one of its vehicles. The assessment of punitive damages against the motor carrier was based on substantial evidence introduced at the trial establishing that the motor carrier did not have an adequate process to control the hours of service compliance of its truck drivers.

In another case, a truck driver ran a stop sign and collided with a pickup truck whose sole occupant was killed instantly as a result of the collision.  After trial the jury awarded $1.3 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiff and an additional $1 million against the motor carrier in punitive damages. On Appeal, the court of appeals found that there was more than sufficient evidence that the motor carrier’s failure to discipline its drivers after previous hours of service violations constituted gross negligence on the part of the motor carrier.

We Investigate to See if a Claim For Punitive Damages Is Warranted

Punitive damages will not be applicable in all cases.  Many accidents are caused by “ordinary” negligence, such as when a driver may have failed to take a certain action.

Punitive damages are awarded in cases where a jury finds that “gross” negligence or misconduct has occurred.  In these cases, usually a pattern of dangerous activities has occurred (perhaps routinely not engaging in safety checks), or that a driver took actions that showed a conscious disregard for the safety of others (such as driving with brakes that the driver knew to be faulty).

While punitive damages should not be expected, if there is a case to be made that punitive damages should apply, I will put forth a strong case for the jury as to why punitive damages should be awarded.

To Find Out More About the Legal Possibilities for Recovery in Your Case, Please Call Me.

In addition to conducting a thorough investigation to promote your case, as part of our investigation we will determine whether a case for punitive damages exists.

We will work for you on a contingency fee basis.  This means that you will not owe us any fees unless and until we recover a settlement or verdict for you.


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