$2,496,000 TOTAL JURY VERDICT: Louisiana Jury Awards Punitive Damages in Fatal Head-on Trucking Accident
My clients were the wife and two daughters of a fine, hard-working gentleman from Lockport, Louisiana who tragically died in a fatal head-on collision on Louisiana Highway 1 in Lafourche Parish while on his way to work at 4 o’clock in the morning.
The driver of the truck that caused the accident was an out-of-state Gulf of Mexico offshore worker who was driving back home after spending a two-week work shift in Louisiana. He left his hotel in Galliano, Louisiana after drinking late into the night with his supervisor and crew. With a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit, the truck driver crossed the center lane of Louisiana Highway 1 and crashed head-on into our victims truck.
Truck driver’s employer and its insurance company refused to pay, claiming that the intoxicated employee was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident and that the employer’s insurance policy therefore did not provide coverage for the claim. Under Louisiana law, an employer can only be held responsible for an employee’s fault if the employee was acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. This is called vicarious liability under Louisiana law.
The employer and its insurer argued that because the truck driver left the job drunk and without permission, it could not be held responsible for his actions. The Law Offices of J. Price McNamara argued that the employer should be held liable, because driving back to his home state from his job site in Louisiana was a specific duty of his employment, that he was actually paid for doing so, and that his supervisor admitted getting drunk with the truck driver at the hotel. The jury agreed, found the employer vicariously liable, found that the employer’s insurance policy provided coverage, and awarded $2,496,000 in total damages, $1,600,000 of which were awarded as punitive damages.
Under Louisiana law, driving while intoxicated is one of the few instances in which a jury is given the discretion to award punitive damages in addition to actual damages against a drunk defendant driver in a wrongful death or personal injury claim. In order to do so, the jury must find that the driver’s intoxication was, in fact, a cause of the accident. The jury is then permitted broad discretion to determine how much is the proper amount to award in punitive damages against the driver in a trucking accident or car accident, taking into account the unique facts of a particular case.
The trial took place in Thibodaux, Louisiana and lasted seven days.