(CN) - A truck driver who killed a father of four and another man by pulling onto a dark highway without signaling owes punitive damages, a federal judge ruled.
The unopposed evidence showed that the accident occurred when Sukhwinder Singh was driving a tractor-trailer on Interstate 78 in Lebanon County, Pa., during the wee hours of Nov. 13, 2009.
After missing a turn for another highway, Singh stopped the truck and then allegedly pulled back onto the highway at 17 mph, without flashers, and without checking for traffic.
In addition to not having received any on-the-job training, Singh was unfamiliar with the route he was driving and the truck's communication equipment, according to the complaint.
Eric Claxton, a father of four, crashed his truck into Singh's and was killed instantly at about 3:10 a.m. His passenger, Eric Burks, later died from severe burns.
The widowed Kamilah Claxton sued Singh and his California-based employer, Sukhchan Singh dba PVR Transport, for negligence, vicarious liability, punitive damages and wrongful death.
Claxton said Singh had received his commercial driving license only one month before the accident, after failing the written test twice and the driving test once.
Because the defendants' insurance company, Federal Motor Carrier Risk Retention Group, faced regulatory review by the state of Delaware, the suit was stayed for about a year and a half until Jan. 16, 2013.
U.S. District Judge William Caldwell granted Claxton's unopposed motion for summary judgment last week. He noted that the court had found both defendants liable for the accident and Burks' death on Jan. 3.
"Here, plaintiff has shown that defendant had a duty to operate the truck safely, and that he breached that duty," Caldwell wrote. "Defendant entered the stream of traffic in an unsafe manner, failed make sure the road was clear, and failed to use his flashers. Additionally, plaintiff has shown that defendant's negligence caused the collision, and that plaintiff suffered damages as a result. There is no evidence to suggest any contributory negligence on the part of plaintiff's decedent. Thus, plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on the negligence claims."
PVR Transport is vicariously liable for the accident, the ruling states.
"Here, plaintiff has shown that both defendants acted with wanton and reckless indifference toward decedent," Caldwell wrote. "Defendant Sukhwinder Singh operated the truck in a reckless manner that created a high probability of serious harm to decedent. Defendant Sukhchan Singh showed disregard for the health and safety of decedent by knowingly permitting an inexperienced driver to operate the truck. Plaintiff has shown that punitive damages are warranted."
Finding that Claxton and her children are proper wrongful-death beneficiaries, the judge awarded them summary judgment on all claims.
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