Federal Court in Bowling Green Refuses to Certify Question of Law to Kentucky Supreme Court in Tractor-Trailer Crash Case

by Mandy Hicks

Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in Bowling Green refused to certify a question of law to the Kentucky Supreme Court in a tractor-trailer accident case. The case was Meherg v. Pope. The case centered on a semi-truck accident in which the tractor-trailer allegedly struck a stopped car from behind on Interstate 65 in Hart County. The force of the impact apparently caused the stopped car to hit another vehicle that was carrying three people. As a result of the crash, five individuals were reportedly injured, and a child was killed.

About one year after the big rig collision, several of the injured victims filed a gross negligence claim against the truck driver and a respondeat superior claim against the trucking company that employed the truck driver. The doctrine of respondeat superior allows an employer to be held responsible for the negligent acts of an employee when the acts were performed during the course of the worker’s employment. In addition, the plaintiffs accused the trucking company of negligent hiring, training, and supervision of the driver. Three years later, the federal court held that the driver did not commit gross negligence and stated the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate he was reckless. The court also ruled that punitive damages were not warranted in the case. Punitive damages are normally awarded by a court in an effort to punish particularly egregious conduct. They are also designed to deter others from acting similarly in the future.

Since the driver admitted to acting negligently, and the trucking company admitted to respondeat superior liability, the Western District of Kentucky stated a trial would be held on the sole issue of any personal injuries sustained by the plaintiffs as a result of the 18-wheeler accident. The federal court also refused to allow the plaintiffs to offer evidence related to the trucking company’s alleged negligent supervision or hiring of the trucker. According to the federal court, most Kentucky courts had previously refused to hold that a negligent training and supervision claim could survive an employer’s admission of respondeat superior liability. The doctrine of respondeat superior allows an employer to be held responsible for the negligent acts of an employee when the acts were performed during the course of the worker’s employment.

At the time of Meherg v. Pope, the Kentucky Supreme Court had not yet ruled in MV Transportation, Inc. v. Allgeier. In that case, the Commonwealth’s highest court ruled that a defendant’s stipulation to vicarious liability does not eliminate a plaintiff’s right to recover for negligent supervision from an employer. Subsequently, however, the Supreme Court has ruled that an employer in Kentucky is not only responsible for a worker’s negligent acts through the doctrine of respondeat superior but may also be sued for an independent cause of action related to the worker’s negligent entrustment, supervision, or training.

In the truck accident case, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to certify a question of law to the Supreme Court of Kentucky over whether or not their negligent supervision and training cause of action against the trucking company should survive. In their motion, the plaintiffs asked the federal court to follow the Kentucky Court of Appeals’ 2012 decision in Allgeier that stated a plaintiff should be allowed to try her negligent hiring and training claims before a court although an employer had admitted to vicarious liability. The federal court distinguished the facts of Allgeier from the case at hand and refused to certify the question to the Supreme Court. Because of this, the Western District of Kentucky denied the plaintiffs’ motion.

If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a Kentucky tractor-trailer accident, the skilled attorneys at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP may be able to help. Please contact us through our website or give our law firm a call today at (270) 781-6500.

Additional Resources:

Meherg v. Pope, Dist. Court, WD Kentucky 2014