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Michigan Man Killed by Trucking Company that Allowed Epileptic Driver and Out-of-Service Truck Makes Case for Punitive Damages

October 14, 2008 by Steven M. Gursten

We have received much feedback from my recent blog, Michigan Man Killed by Epileptic Trucker Driving Out-of-Service Gravel Truck. The blog outlined the case of my client, who was killed in a truck accident when a fully-loaded 150,000-pound gravel hauler lost control on I-75 in Detroit and pinned his car against the highway retainer wall, where it burst into flames.

The truck driver admitted he had received no formal training or supervision from his employer. He also said he failed to inspect the truck’s tires and brakes. Furthermore, he had a seizure disorder and was on powerful epilepsy medication that causes drowsiness and delayed reaction time.

Readers are asking: How could such an unfit and irresponsible trucker be allowed to drive on Michigan roads?

No Punitive Damages in Michigan

The answer is because in Michigan, injury lawyers cannot legally recover punitive damages from trucking companies that knowingly hire unqualified, careless truck drivers who commit myriad safety violations and accidents.

Where damages are monies ordered by a court to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury, punitive damages are additional monies awarded when the defendant acted with recklessness, malice or deceit.

Michigan law does not allow for even the request of punitive damages, thanks to tort reform removing them from the system.

Punitive Damages Put Safety Over Profit

Seemingly outrageous punitive damages have a bad reputation and people may wonder why they are necessary.

Specifically, punitive damages are a way of penalizing the most egregious conduct and making an example to others — to deter corporate executives from putting their bottom line before human lives.

Punitive damages are rare.

Jurors determine punitive damages and assign them only when the behavior was so reckless that business owners undoubtedly need a solid reason not to commit the same offense again. Without such penalties, they might find it more cost-effective to continue their misconduct and risk paying limited compensation to those they have harmed, rather than make safety the primary issue.

Our state is a sad example of that. Because Michigan accident lawyers cannot sue a trucking company for punitive damages, the worst truck drivers who can’t find jobs in states with tougher laws come to Michigan. In turn, many of them cause more truck accidents, injuries and deaths on Michigan roads.

My case puts a face on the reason punitive damages are essential.

If Michigan did not have the worst car accident law and public policy in the entire country, maybe my client’s family would have received punitive damages for their tragic loss. My client was a young engineer, a loving husband and father of two little girls. Maybe the possibility of paying punitive damages would have made the trucking company that hired the unfit truck driver who killed my client think twice before putting a ticking time bomb on the road.

In this case, the time bomb exploded, and my client paid the price. Meanwhile, the trucking company is conducting business as usual.

– This post was written by Steve Gursten, managing partner of Michigan Auto Law. Visit Steve Gursten’s LinkedIn profile.

Related information:
Help for Michigan Car Accident Victims

Recent Car Accident Frequently Asked Questions

Understanding the Basics of Michigan No-Fault Insurance Law

Michigan Auto Law serves the entire state of Michigan, with offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights.

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