Punitive damages for violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
Courts often have been reluctant to allow claims for punitive damages for what some judges have perceived as mere technical violations of hours of service, log book requirements, and other Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. See, e.g., Pittman v. Clay, 2001 WL 1352914 (E.D.Pa.,2001).
However, a recent case illustrates how to lay the foundation for using FMCSR violations to support a claim for punitive damages. In Came v. Micou, 2005 WL 1500978 (M.D.Pa.,2005), the plaintiff overcame summary judgment on a claim for punitive damages based on the following parts of the Regulations: (1) operating the Decker rig in violation of the hours of service regulations pursuant to 49 C.F.R. 395.3; (2) operating the Decker rig when he was too tired to do so safely in violation of 49 C.F.R. 392.3; and(3) failing to properly record his duty status in violation of 49 C.F.R. 395.8.
Significantly, the truck driver testified that he was aware that the hours of service regulations were in place to prevent drivers from falling asleep behind the wheel and causing death or serious injuries.
The plaintiff introduced two expert reports to the effect that the violatoins werethe precipitating factors leading to the collision at issue. First was a report from a trucking regulation expert detailing how (1) that the truck driver had been on duty for at least 75.5 hours in the eight days prior to and including the day of the collision in violation of 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 while employed at the company 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.
Second, there was a report from a fatigue expert who concluded that the driver momentarily fell asleep with a microsleep (sleep lapse) just prior to the collision. It was his opinion that the truck driver irresponsibly placed himself in a situation where he experienced drowsiness, loss of alertness, inattention, and a microsleep which caused him to fall asleep for a short time just prior to the crash; and that the crash could have been avoided if he had properly complied with the Hours of Service regulations, managed his sleep, work-rest scheduling, and took rest-breaks from driving.
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).