Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in Bowling Green refused to certify a question of law to the Kentucky Supreme Court in a tractor-trailer accident case. The case was Meherg v. Pope. The case centered on a semi-truck accident in which the tractor-trailer allegedly struck a stopped car from behind on Interstate 65 in Hart County. The force of the impact apparently caused the stopped car to hit another vehicle that was carrying three people. As a result of the crash, five individuals were reportedly injured, and a child was killed.
About one year after the big rig collision, several of the injured victims filed a gross negligence claim against the truck driver and a respondeat superior claim against the trucking company that employed the truck driver. The doctrine of respondeat superior allows an employer to be held responsible for the negligent acts of an employee when the acts were performed during the course of the worker’s employment. In addition, the plaintiffs accused the trucking company of negligent hiring, training, and supervision of the driver. Three years later, the federal court held that the driver did not commit gross negligence and stated the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate he was reckless. The court also ruled that punitive damages were not warranted in the case. Punitive damages are normally awarded by a court in an effort to punish particularly egregious conduct. They are also designed to deter others from acting similarly in the future.
Since the driver admitted to acting negligently, and the trucking company admitted to respondeat superior liability, the Western District of Kentucky stated a trial would be held on the sole issue of any personal injuries sustained by the plaintiffs as a result of the 18-wheeler accident. The federal court also refused to allow the plaintiffs to offer evidence related to the trucking company’s alleged negligent supervision or hiring of the trucker. According to the federal court, most Kentucky courts had previously refused to hold that a negligent training and supervision claim could survive an employer’s admission of respondeat superior liability. The doctrine of respondeat superior allows an employer to be held responsible for the negligent acts of an employee when the acts were performed during the course of the worker’s employment.