United States District Court, D. Minnesota
E. Wojtalewicz, Wojtalewicz Law Firm, Ltd., counsel for
A. Wood, Matthew D. Sloneker, Michael Thomas Burke, William
L. Davidson, Lind Jensen Sullivan & Peterson, counsel for
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge.
case arises out of a traffic accident involving the
plaintiff, Richard Gaytan Soto, and a semi-truck operated by
defendant Anthony Shealey for Swift Transportation Services,
LLC. Mr. Gaytan Soto and his wife, Marisol Gaytan Soto,
allege that on the night of November 15, 2016, Mr. Gaytan
Soto was driving his sedan on an interstate highway in
Minnesota when he crashed into the trailer of Mr.
Shealey's overturned semi-truck, which was blocking the
roadway. Just before the accident, Mr. Shealey lost control
of the semi-truck when he encountered a herd of deer in the
roadway, attempted to avoid hitting them, drove into a ditch,
and tried to return to the road. At that point, Mr.
Shealey's vehicle overturned and the trailer completely
blocked oncoming westbound traffic. [Am. Compl. ¶¶
24-25.] The plaintiffs assert that Mr. Shealey is liable for
negligence and that Swift is vicariously liable because he
was acting as Swift's agent at the time of the accident.
[Id. ¶¶ 26-35, 44-48.] The plaintiffs also
allege that Swift is liable for negligently hiring, training,
supervising, and retaining Mr. Shealey as a
driver. [Id. ¶¶ 36-43.]
plaintiffs have moved to amend their complaint to add claims
for punitive damages. [ECF No. 85.] Through their Proposed
Second Amended Complaint, the plaintiffs would add requests
for punitive damages against Mr. Shealey personally and
against Swift. [ECF No. 94.] Generally speaking, the
plaintiffs argue that: (1) Mr. Shealey deliberately
disregarded appropriate training for a professional driver of
a commercial motor vehicle who encounters deer in the roadway
and otherwise showed indifference to the safety of others;
and (2) Swift hired Mr. Shealey and kept him employed as a
driver despite knowing that he posed a high likelihood of
danger to others' safety.
Assertions Regarding M r. Shealey
Shealey was an independent driver who had been
contract-driving for Swift for about five months at the time
of the accident. The plaintiffs assert that he showed an
indifference to the safety of others because he referred to
drivers of ordinary passenger vehicles with disdain, calling
them “asshats.” They assert that Mr. Shealey was
not aware of Swift's training materials advising
professional drivers never to swerve to avoid deer on a
highway. Although his semi-truck carried a full load, the
plaintiffs allege that Mr. Shealey showed deliberate
disregard for others' safety because he was driving 68
miles per hour at the time of the incident, which exceeded
the speeding policy Swift applied to its employee drivers.
The plaintiffs contend that Mr. Shealey ignored commercial
driver's license manuals that recommend semi-truck
drivers steer their vehicles to the right in an emergency.
Further, they allege that Mr. Shealey thought about staying
in the ditch when he veered off the road, but instead
attempted to turn back on the roadway. Plaintiffs complain
that Mr. Shealey refused to agree that the accident was
preventable and he did not accept fault for the crash and the
rollover. They also emphasize that Mr. Shealey claimed that
he never heard Mr. Gaytan Soto's vehicle crash into his
truck, and he recalled, allegedly incorrectly, that there was
no shoulder between the left lane and the grassy median.
According to the plaintiffs, Mr. Shealey's improper
conduct is further demonstrated by the fact that he did not
attempt to warn oncoming vehicles of an emergency immediately
after his vehicle came to rest on its side. Finally, the
plaintiffs argue that amending their complaint to seek
punitive damages is proper because Mr. Shealey testified that
he might make the same decisions if confronted with multiple
deer on the highway again.
their negligent hiring, supervision, training, and retention
claims against Swift, the plaintiffs argue that the company
ignored Mr. Shealey's prior trucking violations and
didn't inquire about why he left a prior trucking job
after only a few months of employment. Swift also allegedly
ignored evidence that Mr. Shealey suffers from post-traumatic
stress disorder, and the plaintiffs assert that the company
should have responded differently to evidence showing that
Mr. Shealey was unemployed for several years. Swift also
allegedly ignored Mr. Shealey's criminal history, which
involved one assault and one trespass charge, even though
Swift's safety manager considers temperament and judgment
relevant factors for a truck driver.
plaintiffs also point to conduct of Mr. Shealey during his
Swift employment that they claim the company should have
handled differently. The plaintiffs argue that Swift ignored
the fact that Mr. Shealey had an incident involving failure
to control a semi-truck during his training that took place a
few months before the crash at issue. They also point to the
fact that Mr. Shealey got a speeding ticket in October of
2016, and assert that Swift did respond appropriately.
the plaintiffs allege that Swift didn't adequately train
Mr. Shealey. The plaintiffs argue that Mr. Shealey and his
wife, Christina Shealey, who was in the truck with him on the
night of the incident, stated that they were not trained by
Swift on what to do upon encountering deer on the highway or
how to operate the semi-truck upon going off the road. The
plaintiffs further argue that amending the pleadings to seek
punitive damages from Swift is appropriate because Mr.
Shealey had not heard of “outrunning his
headlights” as a safety concept and Swift allegedly
does not require trainees or drivers to read the
company's safety manual, which includes warnings relating
to encountering deer on the roadway.
Minnesota law, punitive damages are available when a
plaintiff shows by clear and convincing evidence “that
the acts of the defendant show deliberate disregard for the
rights or safety of others.” Minn. Stat. § 549.20,
subd. 1(a). A ...