On my way back from a meeting in North Louisiana on Wednesday, March 31, 2010, I was detoured off of U.S. Highway 61 and around downtown St. Francisville, Louisiana, due to a overturned 18 wheeler that had spilled toxic and hazardous chemicals into the adjacent ditch in the middle of town. The 18 wheeler was traveling through a construction zone when its rear tires dropped off the pavement, resulting in a roll-over event. U.S. Highway 61 was closed for more than eight hours while emergency personnel cleaned up thousands of gallons of a 10 percent solution of sodium hypochlorite, a bleach and disinfectant. Four nearby homes were evacuated, but no injuries were reported. Since no injuries were reported, the 18 wheeler driver and company will most probably escape civil liability.
Prior to the 1996 Mike Foster Louisiana tort reform legislative package, transporters of toxic and hazardous materials were liable for punitive or exemplary damages for their wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of the public. So, prior to 1996, if the 18 wheeler driver whose big rig overturned and spilled toxic and hazardous chemicals in downtown St. Francisville, had acted recklessly in operating his 18 wheeler, he and the commercial company he worked for could be “punished” for spilling the chemicals even if no one was seriously injured. In this post-tort reform era, the 18 wheeler driver and company get off scot-free so long as no one is injured, and even if someone is injured, the drive rand company receive no additional punishment for the wanton and reckless conduct. Is this fair? Is the insulation of commercial carriers from punishment more important than the safety of the public? Perhaps our Legislature should revisit the 1996 changes to our law. In that vein, Senate Bill 547 has been introduced in the 2010 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature by Senator Robert Marionneaux, to enact Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.8, which is proposed to read as follows:
“In addition to general and special damages, exemplary damages may be awarded upon proof that the injuries on which the action is based were caused by a person’s willful and wanton misconduct.”
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in an 18 wheeler accident, contact the Baton Rouge, Louisiana truck accident lawyers at Dué, Guidry, Piedrahita & Andrews. Email Louisiana injury lawyers or call (800) 929-7481 to schedule a free consultation.