Punitive Damages in the Tracy Morgan Case

Did the Walmart truck driver involved in the Tracy Morgan crash exceed the “hours of service” rules (HOS) mandated by federal trucking regulations? If so, is Walmart susceptible to punitive damages?

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Tracy Morgan has settled his personal injury case with Walmart. There are allegations that the truck driver employed by Walmart violated federal regulations by staying on the road too long.  Under the “HOS” rules, truck drivers are required to take breaks after a certain amount of time on the road.

If the Walmart driver was over his hours of service ,it would have been either because he exceeded his hours by his own volition, or because Walmart had some sort of policy in place that encouraged and allowed their drivers to go over the number of allowable driving hours in order to make faster deliveries for instance. Morgan’s lawyers would need to prove that the driver being over on his hours was part of the cause of the accident, but either scenario would be bad for Walmart and could expose them to punitive damages.

Part of the Tracy Morgan settlement that his lawyers obtained for him definitely included compensatory damages. In other words, he has received money from Walmart that will compensate him for his physical injuries, his psychological trauma, and his lost wages. Punitive damages could have been awarded on top of compensatory damages if the case had gone to trial, and punitive damages are intended to penalize the at fault party for their intentional or reckless conduct (ie: not following the HOS rules).

If Walmart did, in fact, have a policy in place that was contrary to federal trucking regulations and that was partially responsible for this devastating and high-profile accident, there is no way they would want that kind of information publicized. This could be another reason why they settled relatively quickly with Tracy Morgan, and because the settlement was confidential, there may have been elements of punitive damages included in the overall settlement.

 

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