Our client, a young woman, was slowing her Jeep Cherokee for traffic on Interstate 10 when an eighteen-wheeler operated by Jones Motor Co., Inc., rear-ended the Jeep, causing it to burst into flames. She was pulled from the Jeep after several minutes with minor cuts and bruises, but no burns. She was later diagnosed with a mild spine injury, bulging cervical (neck) disc, which all physicians agreed would not require surgery. She was also diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. The truck driver tested positive for Methadone, which he was taking pursuant to a physician’s prescription for chronic back pain related to prior surgeries. Toxicology experts disagreed on whether the dosage of Methadone prescribed could cause “intoxication,” as well as whether its use caused the accident, as required to impose punitive damages for driving while intoxicated under Louisiana Civil Code Article 2315.4.
Suit was filed in federal court in New Orleans. The insurance company’s last offer prior to trial was $125,000. Jury awarded $500,000 in actual damages plus $1,500,000 in punitive damages. The punitive damage award was to punish the truck driver for driving under the influence of Methadone even though the Methadone was prescribed by a physician to the driver for back pain. A defense toxicology expert testified that the amount of Methadone detected in the driver’s blood could not have contributed to the accident. Our toxicology expert testified that it did. The jury, disregarding the testimony of the trucking company’s expert, found that the Methadone caused the driver to be impaired and played a part in causing the accident.