Articles Posted in PUNITIVE DAMAGES

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Posted by Christina Cribbs
In Ellis v. Old Bridge Transp., LLC, defendant truck driver was on-duty when he was involved in an accident with plaintiff. 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177897 (M.D. Ga. Dec. 17, 2012). Plaintiff alleged that because the truck driver was talking on his cell phone at the time of the accident, showing a conscious disregard for the consequences of his actions, she was entitled to punitive damages. The Court quickly disposed of plaintiff’s punitive damages claim against the truck driver, relying on Lindsey v. Clinch County Glass, Inc., a 2011 Georgia Court of Appeals case that held that even when defendant was on his cell phone at the time of the accident and had a pattern of using his cell phone while driving, plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient to support an award of punitive damages. 312 Ga. App. 534 (2011). In Ellis, the truck driver had no history of distraction related accidents or traffic violations, therefore, his use of the cell phone alone was not enough to prove punitive damages.
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Posted by Susan J. Levy

The facts underlying the case of Lindsey v. Clinch County Glass, Inc. are undisputed: Defendant truck driver was looking at his cell phone attempting to locate a number when he rear-ended the Plaintiff, who had stopped behind traffic for a red light. 2011 Ga. App. LEXIS 816 (2011). Defendant told the investigating police officer that he was not paying attention to the road at the time of the accident and admitted liability at trial.

Plaintiff argued that she was entitled to an award of punitive damages. Specifically, she argued that Defendant’s habitual use of the phone while driving coupled with his knowledge that doing so was dangerous (as evidenced by his instructions to company employees not to use their mobile phones while driving), authorized a punitive damage award.

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Posted by Susan J. Levy

Almost the first question claims managers and adjusters ask me about a case is whether we have exposure to punitive damages. In the majority of cases, particularly absent a punitive damage exclusion in the insurance policy, the party most at risk in an auto or trucking case is the employer of the allegedly negligent driver. What follows is a brief summary of Georgia law on the imposition of punitive damages in negligent hiring, retention and entrustment cases.

Under Georgia law, plaintiffs must first prove the underlying tort in order to prevail on a punitive damages claim. Benefit Support, Inc. v. Hall Co., 281 Ga. App. 825 (2006). Both negligent hiring and entrustment claims require the plaintiff to prove that the driver was incompetent at the time the employer hired/entrusted the driver. Western Indus., Inc. v. Poole, 280 Ga. App. 378, 381-82 (2006); Smith v. Tommy Roberts Trucking Co., 209 Ga. App. 826, 828. However, the standard of proof for negligent entrustment and negligent hiring/retention are profoundly different.
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