United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
DAVID K. MILLER and DEBBIE MILLER, Plaintiffs, INDEMNITY INSURANCE CO. OF NORTH AMERICA, Intervenor Plaintiff,
CRAIG LAWSON and SHORT MOUNTAIN TRUCKING I, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
matter is before the Court on the defendants' motion for
partial summary judgment. (DE 71). For the following reasons,
the motion shall be GRANTED.
dispute arises out of a car accident between Plaintiff David
Miller and Defendant Craig Lawson, both of whom were
operating semi-tractor trailers on Man O War Boulevard in
Lexington, Kentucky, on March 8, 2016. (DE 1-1 at 2). It is
alleged that Lawson operated his semi-tractor trailer in a
negligent or grossly negligent manner such that he collided
with the semi-tractor trailer operated by Miller after
running a red light. (DE 71-1 at 2; DE 72 at 4). The
plaintiffs filed this action in Fayette County Circuit Court
on March 1, 2017, seeking relief through negligence, loss of
consortium, and punitive damage claims. (DE 1; DE 1-1). The
matter was removed to this Court on March 24, 2017, and the
parties commenced discovery. (DE 1; DE 5).
defendants now move for partial summary judgment, seeking the
Court to dismiss the plaintiffs' punitive damages claim
against both Lawson and his employer, Short Mountain Trucking
I. The defendants argue that Lawson's alleged running of
a red light alone fails to entitle the plaintiffs to punitive
damages from Lawson. (DE 71-1). The defendants further argue
that because no action of Lawson was grossly negligent, any
punitive damages claim based on respondeat superior
against Short Mountain Trucking I must be dismissed as well.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
moving party is entitled to summary judgment pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 “if the movant shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In order to defeat a summary judgment
motion, “[t]he nonmoving party must provide more than a
scintilla of evidence, ” or, in other words,
“sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to
find in that party's favor.” Van Gorder v.
Grand Trunk W. R.R., Inc., 509 F.3d 265, 268 (6th Cir.
2007) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). Summary judgment must be entered if,
“after adequate opportunity for discovery, ” a
party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish
the existence of an element essential to that party's
case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof
at trial.” Tolton v. American Biodyne, Inc.,
48 F.3d 937, 940 (6th Cir. 1995) (quoting Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (internal quotation
law permits the recovery of punitive damages for conduct that
“exceed[s] ordinary negligence whether such conduct
[is] expressed as gross negligence, recklessness, wantonness,
or some other such term.” Williams v. Wilson,
972 S.W.2d 260, 263 (Ky. 1998). Actions constituting gross
negligence need not be express: “it is possible that a
certain course of conduct can be so outrageous that malice
can be implied from the facts of the situation.”
Kinny v. Butcher, 131 S.W.3d 357, 359 (Ky.
Court has considered on multiple occasions whether the
actions of semi-tractor trailer drivers constitute negligence
or gross negligence. In Turner v. Werner Enter.,
Inc., 442 F.Supp.2d 384 (E.D. Ky. 2006), this Court
“found that the defendant, a tractor-trailer driver,
was not grossly negligent when, despite being sleepy, he
decided to try to drive to the next truck stop, fell asleep
and struck a pickup truck.” Oaks v. Wiley Sanders
Truck Lines, Inc., 2008 WL 2859021, at *3 (E.D. Ky. July
22, 2008). Likewise, in Estate of Embry v. Geo Transp. of
Ind., 478 F.Supp.2d 914 (E.D. Ky.2007), this Court found
that a semi-tractor trailer driver committed no more than
ordinary negligence when he fatally struck a car head-on
after having a coughing fit and blacking out.
contrast, Kentucky car accident cases where there is a
finding of gross negligence typically involve some sort of
extraordinary culpable conduct. For example, Shortridge
v. Rice, 929 S.W.2d 194 (Ky. Ct. App. 1996), and
Stewart v. Estate of Cooper, 102 S.W.3d 913 (Ky.
2003), both involved drunk driving accidents. Phelps v.
Louisville Water Co., 103 S.W.3d 46, 53 (Ky. 2003),
presented eighteen (18) instances where the Louisville Water
Co. misrepresented the dangerous nature of a highway,
violated its own safety policies, and disregarded industry
guidelines, evidencing a “reckless disregard” for
the safety of persons and resulting in the death of two
the plaintiffs argue that the defendants are liable for
punitive damages due to Lawson's running his semi-tractor
trailer through a red light. (DE 72 at 4). The mere running
of a red light does not align with the sort of malignant
behavior described in Kentucky cases where punitive damages
were permitted. Turner v. Warner Enters., Inc., 442
F.Supp.2d 384, 386 (E.D. Ky. 2006) (“Arlandson's
alleged misconduct in this action, driving while sleepy, but
within the speed limit, apparently within the proper lane,
and without any suggestion of intoxication, does not match .
. . the level of culpability of the drunk drivers in
Shortridge and Stewart.”). Further,
this Court has already held that “to permit an award of
punitive damages  based on the mere negligent act of
running a red light would render meaningless the distinction
between ordinary and gross negligence and make almost any
negligent act committed while driving a basis for the
imposition of punitive damages.” Oaks v. Wiley
Sanders Truck Lines, Inc., 2008 WL 2859021, at *3 (E.D.
Ky. July 22, 2008). Thus, “as a matter of law, ”
Lawson's alleged conduct does not rise to the level of
gross negligence required for punitive damages, and the
defendants' motion for partial summary judgment is
granted as to Lawson. Id.
Defendant Short ...