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California driver, employer owe punitive damages for fatality

Every truck driver in California and across the country must obtain special drivers' licenses to operate commercial vehicles. Companies who employ truck drivers are responsible for employees' training and the use of safe driving practices.

A California truck company, PVR Transport and one of its drivers are liable for punitive damages, according to a recent summary judgment that favored a plaintiff. A federal judge said it was clear the defendants were reckless and negligent in a Nov. 2009 accident that claimed the lives of two men.

The liability lawsuit was filed by the wife of one of the victims of the overnight crash on an East Coast interstate. Unopposed evidence showed that the untrained, newly-licensed truck driver made a series of preventable mistakes that led to the fatalities.

Reports said the trucker missed a turn and pulled off to the side of the unfamiliar interstate. The driver apparently did not check traffic conditions before reentering the highway. The rig crawled along the high-speed road at 17 mph with no active flashers. The men who died were in a vehicle that slammed into the slow-moving 18-wheeler.

The car driver died at the scene. His passenger later died after suffering extensive burn injuries.

The wrongful death complaint alleged that the inexperienced truck driver was so irresponsible that he did not know how to operate the vehicle's communication equipment. The judge agreed the trucker breached the fundamental duty of all drivers - to operate a vehicle safely.

The court faulted the employer for acting with "wanton indifference." The judge stated the California company was aware the unskilled driver had little experience and presented a danger to other motorists.

The defendants also were found liable earlier this year for the passenger's death.

Victims of truck accident injuries or deaths have the right to claim compensation from third-party employers and others, including trucking companies responsible for vehicle maintenance and servicing.

Source: courthousenews.com, "Truck Driver Gets the Hammer for Fatal Crash" Rosie Bouboushian, Nov. 18, 201 

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