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Truck Drivers Reckless Conduct Paved Way for Punitive Damages

By May 5, 2008July 17th, 2019Trucking Accidents

A recent ruling by a Missouri federal judge makes clear that reckless truck drivers and the companies that hire them will face punitive damages when their conduct hurts and kills innocent motorists.
Truck driver George Albright Jr. was an employee of a staffing company known as Trucker’s Plus. Trucker’s Plus placed Albright with the trucking company Pro Logistics. Logistics Insight is a sister company of Pro Logistics. In addition, Pro Logistics hired Central Transport to monitor a driver’s log books to ensure the driver does not exceed the federal hours-of-service limits.
On June 1, 2006, four people were killed and several others were injured when a semi driven by George Albright Jr. failed to slow down in a construction zone on Interstate 70 near Columbia and plowed into the cars in front of him.
The survivors and the families of the motorists who were killed sued Albright, Trucker’s Plus, Pro Logistics, and Logistics Insight in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division. The case, Garrett, et al. v. Albright, et al., No. 06-CV-4137, was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Nanette K. Laughrey.
In pretrial motions, the trucker and the companies asked the court to dismiss the families’ claim for punitive damages. In a March 21, 2008 ruling, Laughrey refused.
She noted that in Missouri, a jury may award punitive damages when clear and convincing evidence proves that the defendant acted with complete indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others. The families met that standard, Laughrey concluded.
Albright suffered a heart attack in 1997 while driving a semi. That same year, he was diagnosed with non-insulin diabetes. At the time he was hired, Albright’s doctor would only qualify him as physically fit to driver for one year rather than the standard two years. Under industry standards, a one-year qualification is a red flag. However, the trucking companies did not inquire further.
At the time Albright was hired, he was taking a large number of prescription drugs, including Valium (diazepam). However, he did not list the drugs on his medical form. Even if Albright advised the employers about his prescriptions, federal rules would prohibit a trucker from driving under the influence of diazepam unless a doctor certifies that it would not adversely effect his driving. The certification was not obtained before the accident.
Further, Pro Logistics had in place a policy that prohibited the hiring of a driver with a reckless driving conviction. In 1990, Albright had been convicted of reckless driving in his personal automobile. In 2002, Albright was cited in Ohio for speeding in a tractor-trailer.
Pro Logistics also had in place a policy that allowed them to withhold pay if a driver did not turn in his logbooks. In May 2006, the month before the accident, Albright failed to report nine days worth of logs. On May 11, 2006, he exceeded the hours-of-service permitted by federal law.
Laughrey noted that on the day of the accident, Albright’s logbooks indicated he slept in Columbia, Mo. from 6 am to 4:45 pm. But his cell phone records reveal he made calls at 5:47 am, 6:50 am, 12:57 am, 1:06 pm, 4:17 pm and 4:20 pm. The location of those calls was inconsistent with his logbook location.
Finally, one eyewitness testified that just before the accident, Albright looked like he was falling asleep. Another eyewitness, a flagman on I-70, testified that Albright appeared inattentive before the accident.
Laughrey wrote, “In this case, Plaintiffs have set forth clear and convincing evidence that Pro Logistics and Logistics Insights not only failed to observe clear industry standards for the monitoring of safe driving, but failed to follow their own corporate policies, both of which had the clear purpose of preventing injury to the motoring public from unsafe drivers.”
She also wrote that a “reasonable juror could conclude from the evidence that Pro Logistics and Logistics Insight knew about Albright’s heart condition, prescribed medications and history of reckless driving and allowed him to drive regardless.”
As a result of her ruling, the families were allowed to proceed with their request for punitive damages. On April 25, the defendants agreed to settle the case for $18 million.
The truck driver has also been charged with four counts of second-degree involuntary manslaughter. The criminal case is set for trial this summer.
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