Citation. 731 S.W.2d 194 (Ark. 1987)
Brief Fact Summary.
Foley was driving an 18-wheel tractor-trailer for his employer National on a highway. Foley’s trailer weighed about 80,480 pound. Searcy House Moving Co. was also shipping a house on the same highway. While being on the highway, Foley’s trailer collided with a vehicle in which Stacy McGee and Lorene Staggs were inside of. Following that collision, Foley’s trailer struck another vehicle and Searcy’s house. Both McGee and Staggs died from the collision. Thereafter, McGee and Stagg’s estates brought suit against National, Searcy, and Foley. National and Foley filed a cross complaint against Searcy, and Searcy filed a cross complaint against National and Foley. The jury ruled in the McGee and Stagg’s estates favor. National appealed the damages ruled against it of $100,000 in punitive damages to Searcy.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
For the plaintiff to be awarded punitive damages, the plaintiff must show that the defendant proceeded to act intentionally after knowing that the act would naturally and likely result in the plaintiff’s injury.
On July 11, 1985, Robert Foley was driving an 18-wheel tractor-trailer for his employer, National By-Products, Inc., on a highway. The 18-wheel tractor-trailer weighed about 80,480 pounds, which was 480 pounds over the limit. Nonetheless, Foley had previously exceeded the weight requirement in the past without being subject to discipline by National. The Searcy House Moving Co. was shipping a house on the same highway. When Searcy was not able to pass below a bridge, it had to stop to adjust the house. When Searcy was making the adjustments, traffic was moving only through a single lane. Foley turned a corner on the highway when he was traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour, 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. At that time, Searcy was about 900 feet away from Foley. Foley did not try to slow down or stop or appear to try to slow down or stop. Thereafter, Foley’s 18-wheel tractor-trailer collided into a vehicle in which Stacy McGee and Lorene Staggs were inside. Following that collision, Foley’s tractor-trailer collided into Searcy’s house and another vehicle. Subsequently, McGee and Staggs died. Later, it was known that Foley’s breaks were not functioning properly and National was about two-and-a-half months late in fixing them. Nevertheless, Foley himself,was being diligent with his personal daily and periodic inspections of the brakes. McGee and Staggs estates brought a wrongful-death action against Foley, National, and Searcy. Foley and National and Searcy filed cross-complaints on each other. A jury heard all cases ruled in favor of the estates of Staggs and McGee and to Searcy. National appealed the damages ruled against it of $100,000 in punitive damages to Searcy.
What must the plaintiff show in order to be awarded punitive damages?
The plaintiff must show that the defendant proceeded to act intentionally after knowing that the act would naturally and likely result in the plaintiff’s injury.
In this case, Foley was driving a large, overloaded tractor-trailer at a speed of about 70 miles per hour. Even though he could see congestion, Foley chose not to slow down. Due to those actions, it is reasonable to infer that Foley knew that a collision would naturally and likely occur. Likewise, there is evidence to suggest that Foley may have known or should have known that his brakes were defective and that National encouraged unsafe driving. Overall, the jury’s award should be affirmed.
For the plaintiff to be awarded punitive damages, the plaintiff must show that the defendant proceeded to act intentionally after knowing that the act would naturally and likely result in the plaintiff’s injury.In this case, the evidence does not establish that National, through its own procedures or the acts of Foley, was acting with wantonorin conscious indifference. Despite the fact that gross negligence was established at trial, the state of mind required for gross negligence does not alone rise to the level required to warrant punitive damages. Foley was not aware of any brake defects. Therefore, he did not proceed intentionally. The lower court’s judgment for punitive damages is reversed.