Applying Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to punitive damages issues
A leading case on punitive damages regarding systemic failure to manage drivers’ hours in the interstate commercial driver fatigue context is Came v. Micou, 2005 WL 1500978 (M.D.Pa.,2005), in which the plaintiff overcame summary judgment on a claim for punitive damages. Among the several factors considered in determining that the defendants’ conduct constituted “reckless indifference to the rights of others” were failure to monitor the truck driver’s conduct, failure to conduct any investigation into the driver’s hours of service, re-dispatching the truck driver even though he had exceeded his hour of service limitations; and failure to have effective procedures in place to verify drivers’ hours of service when the company knew that hours of service regulations were in place to protect the safety of the monitoring public.
Among the FMCSR factors considered were (1) that the truck driver was in violation of hours of service under 49 C.F.R. 395.3(b)(2) and that the company should have been aware that the driver’s hours of service had exceeded legal limits; (2) that the truck driver was driving in a state of low mental arousal or fatigue at the time of the collision in violation of 49 C.F.R. 392.3; (3) that the truck driver falsified his time logs in violations of 49 C.F.R. 395.8; (4) that the trucking company failed to have an effective procedure in place to verify drivers’ hours of service and that the company’s flawed log auditing system allowed drivers to exceed hours of service limitations; (5) that the driver’s conduct was outrageous as he knew the hours of service regulations were in place to prevent fatigued drivers from operating large and heavy commercial motor vehicles; and (6) that the company’s policy, procedures and actions were outrageous in that their management and employees knew the hours of service regulations were in place to protect the safety of the monitoring public and knew hours of service was a problem in their operations
In Trotter v. B & W Cartage Co., Inc., 2d, 2006 WL 1004882 (S.D.Ill.,2006), the court considered the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and official Regulatory guidance issued by the Federal Highway Administration. There was evidence in that case of violation of hours of service rules, fatigued driving, falsification of driver logs, and failure of management to adequately monitor drivers’ hours.
Similarly, in Bridges ex rel Wrongful Death Beneficiaries v. Enterprise Products Co., Inc., 2007 WL 433242 (S.D.Miss.,2007), the court found that violation of hours of service rules and falsification of driver logs support denial of partial summary judgment on punitive damages.
Sometimes trucking companies claim that they outsourced all auditing of driver logs to an outside safety consultant, but the outside audit consisted of little more than adding up the numbers and checking for fuel theft, without comparing driver logs to dispatch logs, bills of lading and trip receipts. Compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations cannot be abdicated by use of an outside consultant. In Esteras v. TRW, Inc., 2006 WL 2474049 (M.D.Pa.,2006.), a defendant trucking company delegated inspection and maintenance of trucks to a contractor and never checked to make sure the drag link and/or steering components of the tractor-truck were properly inspected and maintained in violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The court held that “a reasonable jury could conclude that failure to properly inspect and maintain the tractor/truck . . . constitutes reckless indifference to the rights of others . . . [and the] conduct was egregious as to warrant an award of punitive damages. . . .”
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.