United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
DAVID K. MILLER and DEBBIE MILLER, Plaintiffs,
CRAIG LAWSON and SHORT MOUNTAIN TRUCKING I, Defendants. INDEMNITY INSURANCE CO. OF NORTH AMERICA, Intervenor Plaintiff,
OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the plaintiff's motion to
reconsider (DE 82). The Court finds no reason to subject the
defendants to the expense of responding, and, for the
following reasons, this motion is DENIED.
dispute arises out of a car accident between Plaintiff David
Miller and Defendant Craig Lawson. Specifically, Miller
alleges that Lawson operated his semi-tractor trailer in a
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). Lawson and Short Mountain Trucking I
moved for partial summary judgment of Miller's punitive
damages claims, correctly arguing that running a red light is
insufficient for a finding of gross negligence. Oaks v.
Wiley Sanders Truck Lines, Inc., 2008 WL 2859021, at *3
(E.D. Ky. July 22, 2008). As a finding of gross negligence is
required to support punitive damages, this Court granted the
defendants' motion and dismissed Miller's punitive
damages claim. (DE 78).
now seeks the Court to reconsider its previous ruling,
alleging that Lawson was intentionally violating Short
Mountain Trucking I's cell phone policy by talking on his
cell phone as he ran the red light. (DE 82 at 2).
Alternately, Miller requests that the Court certify a
question to the Supreme Court of Kentucky. Id.
(citing Ky. R. Civ. P. 76.37).
noted, this Court has considered on multiple occasions
whether the actions of semi-tractor trailer drivers
constitute negligence or gross negligence. (DE 78 (citing
Oaks v. Wiley Sanders Truck Lines, Inc., 2008 WL
2859021, at *3 (E.D. Ky. July 22, 2008); Estate of Embry
v. Geo Transp. of Ind., 478 F.Supp.2d 914 (E.D.
Ky.2007); Turner v. Werner Enter., Inc., 442
F.Supp.2d 384 (E.D. Ky. 2006))). In general, the Court has
found that semi-tractor trailer drivers are not grossly
negligent when they run red lights, fall asleep while
driving, or fatally strike cars while in the midst of a
coughing fit. Id. In contrast, the Court has noted
that cases permitting an allegation of gross negligence to
proceed “typically involve some sort of extraordinary
culpable conduct, ” such as drunk driving or the
habitual, reckless disregard for law and the safety of
others, resulting in death. Id. (citing Stewart
v. Estate of Cooper, 102 S.W.3d 913 (Ky. 2003);
Phelps v. Louisville Water Co., 103 S.W.3d 46, 53
(Ky. 2003); Shortridge v. Rice, 929 S.W.2d 194 (Ky.
Ct. App. 1996)).
motion for reconsideration, Miller argues that the defendants
are liable for punitive damages not due to Lawson's
alleged running his semi-tractor trailer through a red light,
but through Lawson's alleged running of his semi-tractor
trailer through a red light while also violating
company policy by speaking on a cell phone. (DE 82 at 2). It
has been noted that running a red light alone is
insufficient. Oaks v. Wiley Sanders Truck Lines,
Inc., 2008 WL 2859021, at *3 (E.D. Ky. July 22, 2008).
It is apparent, too, that driving while using a cell phone in
violation of company policy is also insufficient alone to
justify punitive damages. Southard v. Belanger, 966
F.Supp.2d 727, 740 (W.D. Ky. 2013) (citing Horn v.
Hancock, 700 S.W.2d 419, 421 (Ky. App. 1985)). But no
Kentucky court has yet considered whether (1) running a red
light while (2) violating company policy by using a cell
phone are sufficient together to establish gross negligence.
Id. Thus, the Court is presented with the novel
question: “do two wrongs make gross negligence?”
is no need to certify this question to the Supreme Court of
Kentucky, as it is resolved by a careful review of Kentucky
law. Southard v. Belanger, 966 F.Supp.2d 727, 740
(W.D. Ky. 2013), discussed a semi-tractor trailer diver's
use of a cell phone in violation of company policy,
“but [driving] within the speed limit, apparently in
the proper lane, without any suggestion of intoxication, and
without a prior history of automobile accidents.”
There, the Court held that the alleged misconduct-using a
cell phone while driving in violation of company policy-did
not elevate the driver's negligence to the level required
for punitive damages. Southard's holding was
based on Horn v. Hancock, 700 S.W.2d 419, 421 (Ky.
App. 1985), which notably held that the intentional violation
of a Kentucky transportation statute-not merely a
company policy-did not justify punitive damages.
Southard too makes an important point: while a
corporation may forbid semi-tractor trailer drivers from
using cell phones while driving, Kentucky law does not. Ky.
Rev. Stat. Ann. § 189.292(2) (noting that speaking on a
cell phone while driving is permissible under Kentucky law,
and that texting while driving is permitted in certain
Miller's motions make no mention of speeding, aside from
the allegation that Lawson ran a red light. (DE 72; DE 82).
While Lawson may have been on his cell phone in violation of
company policy, this was not in violation of Kentucky law.
Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 189.292. Like in Oaks v. Wiley
Sanders Truck Lines, Inc., the Record before the Court
shows that Lawson, while he may have sped through a red
light, was technically driving within the speed limit and in
the proper lane. Like in Southard, while Lawson may
have violated company policy by using his cell phone, there
is also no allegation of intoxication or any prior accident
history. In light of all of these considerations, the Court
again finds that Lawson's alleged conduct does not amount
to gross negligence under Kentucky law. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann.
§ 189.292(2); Southard v. Belanger, 966
F.Supp.2d 727, 740 (W.D. Ky. 2013); Oaks v. Wiley Sanders
Truck Lines, Inc., 2008 WL 2859021, at *3 (E.D. Ky. July
22, 2008); see also 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 [punitive damages cases].”).
case, two wrongs do not make gross negligence. Accordingly,
IT IS ORDERED that the plaintiffs'