As an Atlanta, Georgia attorney handling many commercial truck accident cases, I am often asked about how important punitive damage claims are in these cases.
In Georgia, punitive damages are allowed "only in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences."
Punitive damages are capped at $250,000 in collision cases in Georgia unless there was an intent to harm, which the evidence would rarely if ever support.
I personally handled a trucking wrongful death and personal injury case where the court allowed a punitive damage claim against a trucking company due to evidence that the company "turned a blind eye" to hours of service violations, and dispatched back to back trips that could not be completed lawfully.
Other trucking cases where punitive damage claims were allowed include:
* a "forced dispatch system" where a truck driver could not refuse a load and keep his job, so that hours of service violations, etc., were inevitable.
* payment for speed of delivery, encouraging drivers to speed
* failure to check driving records, as required by regulations
* rigorous delivery schedule with penalties for late deliveries
* failure to provide maintenance mechanics with necessary tools
* failure to discipline truck driver for violations
* 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
* violation of hours of service rules, fatigued driving, falsification of driver logs, and failure of management to adequately monitor drivers' hours
* violation of hours of service rules and falsification of driver logs
* combination of knowledge of safety issues, speed, use of radar detector, driver’s history of violations, and lack of qualifications of safety director
* Ignore smoking brakes, failure to stop until brake drum falls apart
* stopped in the interstate's center lane for approximately 35 minutes before the collision without placing triangular warning devices on the highway, and failure to turn on tractor-trailer lights after it became dark
Some of the evidence that supports a claim for punitive damages is also useful in supporting a claim for "bad faith" attorney fees under OCGA 13-6-11, and for simply convincing a jury that the conduct justifies awarding adequate compensatory damages.
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