Florida Jury Awards $3 Million for Accident Caused by Fatigued Trucker
A Florida jury awarded $3 million to the wife of a driver killed in a collision with a tired truck driver. The case, which was tried in federal court in Florida, involved a collision of two tractor-trailers on Interstate 95 in Flagler County.
The defendant driver had pulled her tractor-trailer to the shoulder of the highway in order to check on a light in the cab. After checking the light, she attempted to merge back onto the interstate highway. The defendant driver admitted seeing lights coming toward her, but thought that the oncoming vehicle was farther away. The tractor-trailer being driven by the plaintiff's husband collided with the rear of the merging vehicle.
Defendant Driver Drove in Excess of Hours Allowed in Florida
The plaintiff was able to show that the defendant driver had been driving for almost 19 hours prior to the accident. Florida state law prohibits truck drivers from driving any more than 14 hours after coming on duty. The federal hours of service regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration where amended in December 2010 to allow truckers to drive no more than 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty as well.
Excess Driving Hours Can Support a Punitive Damage Award
Punitive damages are not awarded based on the plaintiff's actual damages like most jury awards. Instead they are based on bad behavior by the defendants. In trucking cases, evidence that the driver drove longer than allowed by state or federal regulations can support an award of punitive damages by a jury against the trucking company. If the jury believes that the trucking company frequently pushes its drivers to drive longer than is legal in order to deliver shipments on time, the jury may award punitive damages against the trucking company to punish this behavior and hopefully prevent it from happening again in the future.
If you or a family member is involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer or similar vehicle, be sure to obtain the advice of an personal injury attorney well versed in both federal and state trucking law.