Punitive damages under Georgia law are designed to "penalize, punish or deter" conduct that shows "willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences." Proof must be by "clear and convincing evidence." O.C.G.A. ? 51-12-5.1.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations considered in determining punitive damages
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are a starting point for the use of corporate conduct as a foundation for punitive damages.
49 C.F.R. ? 390.13 - no person may aid, abet, encourage, or require violation of any of the rules of the FMCSR.
49 C.F.R. ? 392.6 - companies may not schedule a delivery in such a way that would require the driver to operate his or her vehicle at speeds greater than those prescribed by the rules of the road in effect at the location in question.
49 C.F.R. ? 395.3 provides that no trucking company shall permit or require any driver to exceed the maximum hours of driving time allowed under the FMCSR. All trucking companies "shall systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles subject to its controls." This general duty of a trucking company to maintain its vehicles in good working order includes a duty to maintai
Administrative interpretations of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
Courts may also consider the applicable administrative interpretations included in the official Regulatory Guidance for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 62 Fed.Reg. 16370 (1997). For example, the Regulatory Guidance includes the following official interpretations of the regulations:
Question 7: What is the liability of a motor carrier for hours of service violations?
Guidance: The carrier is liable for violations of the hours of service regulations if it had or should have had the means by which to detect the violations. Liability under the FMCSRs does not depend upon actual knowledge of the violations.
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National body of case law on punitive damages in commercial trucking cases
The national body of law supporting punitive damages in trucking case includes:
Came v. Micou, 2005 WL 1500978 (M.D.Pa.,2005). Factors considered as "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. These facts involved violations of numerous FMCSRs.
Trotter v. B & W Cartage Co., Inc., 2006 WL 1004882 (S.D.Ill.,2006). Violation of hours of service rules, fatigue, falsification of driver logs, failure of management to adequately monitor drivers' hours.
More of national body of case law on punitive damages in trucking cases
Bridges ex rel Wrongful Death Beneficiaries v. Enterprise Products Co., Inc., 2007 WL 433242 (S.D.Miss.,2007). Violation of hours of service rules and falsification of driver logs supported denial of partial summary judgment on punitive damages.
Esteras v. TRW, Inc., 2006 WL 2474049 (M.D.Pa.,2006).
Garrett v. Albright, 2008 WL 795613 (W.D.Mo.,2008).
Shinn v. Greeness, 218 FRD 478 (M.D.N.C., 2003).
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Georgia case law on punitive damages in commercial trucking cases
Ricker v. Southwind Trucking, Inc., C.A. NO. 4:05-CV-0223-HLM, Northern District of Georgia, decided March 15, 2007. This was our case. The driver had destroyed log pages and replaced them with pages showing himself off duty when in fact he had been driving from Ohio to Georgia and back, began the trip in question after a one hour nap at a shipper's terminal, "pushed times back" by about five hours on the trip log to make himself look legal the next day, and at the time of the crash had been driving 20 of the previous 24 hours. The trucking company failed to have any management system for effectively monitoring drivers' hours and relied solely upon drivers to inform management that they could not take a load due to hours. There was no effort to cross-check dispatch records against driver logs. The court concluded a jury could conclude the company "turned a blind eye" to its drivers' hours of service compliance, and "was consciously indifferent" to compliance.