Big rigs are dangerous enough on the road as is, but when a drunk trucker gets behind the wheel, the potential consequences only increase in severity. In Philadelphia, a pedestrian suffered catastrophic injuries when he was hit on the side of the road by a commercial truck operated by a drunken driver. The plaintiff argued that trucking company J.B. Hunt negligently hired an outside contract driver by not thoroughly checking his background, which included a history of DUI incidents.
The jury heard arguments from both sides and deliberated for three hours before ultimately finding J.B. Hunt 40% responsible for the accident and the driver 60% responsible. In addition, the jury awarded the plaintiff $15.5 million in damages. The verdict accounted for $12.2 million of economic damages and $3.3 million for loss of consortium for the plaintiff’s wife.
This case highlighted several issues that may arise in a trucking accident case:
- Vicarious Liability – also known as respondeat superior, this legal doctrine holds employers responsible for the actions of employees, so long as the employees are acting within the scope of employment when the accident occurs. Employers are usually not responsible, however, for the actions of independent contractors. Many trucking companies argue they have no liability in an accident because the driver was an independent contractor, and not an employee. Courts across the country have developed specific tests for determining when one is an independent contractor, as opposed to an employee.
- Comparative Fault – each state maintains different rules with respect to determining who is at fault for accidents. Pennsylvania is a comparative negligence jurisdiction, meaning that so long as the plaintiff is less than 50% at fault, the plaintiff may recover for damages suffered. In addition, a judge or jury may assess degrees of fault for varying parties who must pay damages accordingly. For example, in this case, J.B. Hunt was found 40% at fault, and must therefore pay 40% of the total damages.
- Damages – damages must be proven before a plaintiff may recover compensation. Damages come in many forms, both economic and noneconomic in nature. Economic damages may include loss of income, medical expenses, and property damage. Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, may include loss consortium, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering. For conduct like drunk driving, punitive damages may be assessed against the wrongdoer.
Many states have established a blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) of .08% as the level at or above which a person operating a vehicle is considered to be under the influence of alcohol. Truck drivers, however, are held to a more stringent standard. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established .04% as the BAC level at or above which a commercial truck driver operating a commercial vehicle is considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol. If found to be driving under the influence (DUI), a big rig driver may see his or her license to operate commercial vehicles revoked, in addition to a host of other consequences.
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If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident, contact Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz today. Our firm has over 25 years representing injured plaintiffs throughout Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky. To schedule a free consultation with NST, contact us online or toll-free at 800-529-4004. After speaking with one of our attorneys, you will see why NST is the way to go.