Understanding Punitive Damages in 18 Wheeler Accidents

Sometimes, in an accident involving an 18-wheeler, it comes to light that the real cause of the accident was unbelievably bad behavior on the part of the truck driver or his employer. Cases have arisen where the truck driver was drunk, using drugs, or extremely tired because he lied about how many hours he had driven in order to make more money. In addition, trucking companies sometimes provide shoddy safety maintenance to 18-wheelers to save a quick dollar, or have unrealistic schedules which keep their drivers fatigued and unsafe. When these practices come to light, the truck driver and his employer may be liable for punitive damages.

Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are damages awarded by a court against an individual or company that are designed solely to punish the company for bad behavior. They are awarded on top of the other damages that a victim may have, such as medical expenses, pain and suffering damages, and the like. As such, punitive damages may double or triple an award of damages made by a Court, and are one of the driving forces behind very large verdicts.

That said, in the State of Texas, Courts have held that the purpose of punitive damages is punishment. To make sure that liable individuals are punished by a punitive damages award, Texas courts have sometimes held that punitive damages cannot be covered by insurance. This means that the victim may have trouble getting his hands on the punitive part of a damages award.

In the case of Minter v. Great American Insurance Company of New York, a driver of an 18-wheeler struck another vehicle because he was intoxicated; the driver had two other DWIs in the past. The jury awarded the victim $2.67 million in actual damages, and $1.6 million in punitive damages. The victim managed to collect $1.9 million of the judgment, then filed suit against the driver’s insurance company to collect the rest of it, including the punitive damages. The Court held that, due to how bad the driver’s behavior was in driving an 18-wheeler while drunk, Texas law requires that the driver could not rely on insurance to pay the $1.6 million in punitive damages – he would have to pay that part of the judgment himself. The court’s reasoning was that the driver, and not his insurance company, should be punished for the accident.

Victims of 18-wheeler accidents should keep in mind that punitive damages are often available, and they can sometimes double or even triple a court judgment. That said, punitive damages are more difficult to collect than damages for medical bills or pain and suffering, because they may not be covered by insurance and the victim may therefore have to go after the assets of the truck driver or employer. Nonetheless, they can sometimes serve as a nice way to receive additional money after an accident.

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