Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued an interesting opinion in a truck accident case that required the court to determine if the company that employed a truck driver who was responsible for a serious accident could be liable for punitive damages. Ultimately, the court concluded that under some other set of facts, punitive damages may be appropriate, but, given the facts presented in this specific case, they were not.
The Facts of the Case
In 2014, the plaintiffs were driving through a construction zone on Interstate 14 when they were struck by a truck. The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the trucking company that employed the driver, arguing that the company was liable for the driver’s actions because he was an employee working within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the company was negligent for hiring the truck driver in the first place, given the driver’s checkered past. The plaintiffs sought punitive damages on each claim.
In support of their negligent hiring claim, the plaintiffs introduced evidence that the truck driver had previously been convicted of drug offenses and had a significant history of traffic offenses. There was also a report that the truck driver had been found to be traveling at 99 miles per hour while on the job just a week prior to the accident.
The employer of the truck driver acknowledged that it was vicariously liable for the negligence of its employee, but it argued that it was not liable for punitive damages.
The Court’s Decision
The court concluded that the defendant’s position – as an absolute statement of the law – was incorrect, and in some situations, an employer may be liable for punitive damages based on the conduct of its employee. However, in order for punitive damages to be appropriate against an employer, the court held that the plaintiff must show that “the employer had advance knowledge of the unfitness of the employee and employed him or her with a conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
Here, the court explained, the plaintiffs failed to make the required showing. The court explained that the trucking company had conducted the required check into the background of the driver prior to hiring him, but the information about his past convictions was not on the record. Furthermore, the court concluded that the driver’s history of traffic violations was insufficient to show that the company acted with a “conscious disregard” for the safety of others when hiring the driver. As a result, the court determined that punitive damages were not appropriate.
Punitive Damages in Maryland
As in the case discussed above, punitive damages in Maryland are difficult to prove. However, in some situations, punitive damages are appropriate. Specifically, in Maryland truck accident cases, a plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with “actual malice” in order to obtain punitive damages. While it is possible in theory, it is unlikely that punitive damages will be awarded against an employer for the negligent conduct of an employee. However, punitive damages may be more easily obtained against the employee.
Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Truck Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Depending on the circumstances of the accident and the extent of your injuries, you may be awarded amounts for your past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and any pain and suffering you endured as a result of the accident. In some cases, punitive damages may also be appropriate. The skilled attorneys at the Maryland personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have extensive experience handling a broad range of truck accident cases. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney today.
More Blog Posts:
Determining Liability in Maryland Multi-Vehicle Accidents, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published June 5, 2017.
Trucking Accidents Near Maryland Construction Zones, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published May 24, 2017.