Only in Texas, Only in Texas. I guess that report saying you are more likely to get justice in Mexico than Texas is correct after all. The corporate court of the nation of Texas has declared in its recent opinion that employees can be told to break the law, endanger the public, and presumably kill innocent people, or fired. What a Country! No if we can get these trucks on the Mississippi roads with bridges out they don't have to warn you about what a mess we can make! Clearly life has no value in the Texas Court system. As these Justice are elected we can conclude that life has no value in Texas or the voters are either very gullible are just plan stupid. Make no bones, about it this decision will kill people just as quickly as a loaded gun left on a play ground in the projects. These justices will soon have blood on their hands. The only problem is that these death trap trucks are unlikely to stay in Texas. I had an unpleasant encounter with one two years ago, and drive I-10 daily. And we know life has value in Mississippi, about $200,000 with the caps but at least something. I didn't vote for these guys, but damn if they didn't increase the chance of me being killed by an 18 wheeler. Thanks guys, I wonder if your judicial immunity works in my state. (LOL) I will be sure to give you full credit for this when talking with my state trooper buddies about all the problems they are having with overloaded poorly maintained trucks. (Good for about three wrecks a week on the 50 miles of 1-10 i drive. Guess where most of the trucks are from...........
From Texas Statsman
Supreme Court tosses $200,000 award for improperly fired trucker
By Chuck Lindell
Posted: 04/20/2012 12:39 PM
Under a Texas Supreme Court ruling delivered today, a trucker fired for refusing to drive an unsafe vehicle — he feared for himself and other drivers — may have fared better in the courts had he followed his employer’s demand, driven the truck and had an accident.
Trucker Louis Martinez III filed suit for wrongful termination in 2007 after he was fired for refusing to drive a truck carrying a load of steel shelving that was stacked higher than permitted and was improperly secured with broken straps, court records show.
It was the fifth time the company, Safeshred Inc., had asked him to drive an improperly loaded or permitted truck, the Supreme Court acknowledged. After pointing out the safety concerns, Martinez agreed to drive the truck but soon returned after feeling the load shift, the court said, adding that he was fired after refusing an order to return to the road.
A jury determined that Martinez, whose route for Safeshred included Austin, was improperly fired for refusing to perform an illegal act and awarded him $7,569 in lost wages (he found a new job within two months), $10,000 in mental anguish damages and $200,000 in punitive damages.
A lower appeals court later threw out the $10,000 award, ruling that such damages were not allowed in Martinez’s claim.
Today, the Supreme Court also tossed out the $200,000 award, ruling that Martinez did not qualify for punitive damages, either.
To receive punitive damages, Justice Debra Lehrmann wrote for the unanimous court, Martinez had to show he was fired with malice.
The court, however, rejected Martinez’s argument that malice could be shown by Safeshred’s indifference to the risk facing Martinez or the public had he driven an improperly loaded truck.
In cases involving workers terminated for refusing to perform an illegal act, the court said, malice can apply only to the act of firing, such as circulating untrue rumors about employees, interfering with their ability to find a new job or post-firing harassment.
“A defendant should be punished for the conduct that harmed the plaintiff, not for being an unsavory individual or business,” Lehrmann wrote.
The court acknowledged a certain Catch-22 in its reasoning.
Had Martinez chosen to drive the truck and been hurt, he could have sued Safeshred and sought punitive damages based on “the employer’s malicious intent in ordering the illegal act,” the ruling stated.
But by refusing to drive, Martinez never performed the illegal, and potentially dangerous, act he was ordered to perform. “Thus, allowing punitive damages based on the unrealized consequences of the illegal directive would amount to impermissibly punishing the employer for harm the plaintiff never actually endures,” Lehrmann wrote.
Today’s opinion was based on previous rulings affirming Texas as an employment-at-will state, allowing employers wide latitude to fire workers “for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all,” the court said.
Expanding punitive damages to actions beyond the act of firing an employee “would be an improper expansion” of the employment-at-will doctrine, the court said.
The case is Safeshred v. Martinez, 10-0426.
Here are some excerpts from the case...See 49 C.F.R. § 393.106(b) (2011) (requiring proper cargo placement and restraint to The cut straps that ad prompted a citation by the DPS officer on October 8th remained, the load was unsafely stacked higher than the top of the truck’s cab, and there was no dunnage main rows of the steel shelving. For a third time, Martinez complied with Safeshred’s order to drivethe truck anyway. Finally, on October 17th Safeshred again asked Martinez to drive an improperly secured load. In addition to the cut straps, highly stacked load, and lack of dunnage, the steel shelving extended off the back of the trailer. This time, Safeshred managers called DPS and confirmed the legality of the shelving extending off the back. But Martinez continued to warn Safeshred about the other safety hazards (straps, height, and dunnage) despite conceding the legality of the overhang. Martinez began to drive the truck, but turned around after a few miles when he felt the cargo shifting and feared for his safety. After again urging his concerns over the legality of the load all the way up Safeshred’s chain of command, he was told to either drive the truck or go home. He went home and was fired......
Martinez worked for Safeshred in October of 2007 as a commercial truck driver, hauling
loads of cargo between Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin. Prior to each haul, he was
required to perform a pre-trip inspection of the truck to confirm its compliance with relevant safety regulations. Martinez repeatedly discovered safety violations in the vehicle he was asked to drive throughout the beginning of October, but was consistently ordered to drive the truck anyway. The first incident occurred on October 1st, when Martinez was asked to drive a truck despite his pointing out a missing Texas Department of Transportation identification number and expired dealer’s tag (both violations of relevant regulations). The same defects remained in the truck he was ordered to drive on October 8th, and on that trip Martinez was pulled over and cited by a Department of Public Safety officer for numerous violations of state and federal regulations. Among the citations was one for improperly secured cargo, due in part to substantial cuts in straps used to secure the load to the truck bed. protect against shifting and falling cargo). Martinez testified that he showed the citation and described the problems to Safeshred management. Having been told by the DPS officer not to drive the truck again until the defects had been remedied, Martinez refused to drive the truck when asked by Safeshred to do so again on October 9th. After a week of administrative duties during which time Safeshred supposedly sought to bring the truck into compliance with state and federal regulations, Martinez was again asked to drive the truck on October 15th. But while Safeshred had apparently corrected some of the defects on the truck (like the missing and expired tags), Martinez’s concerns about the load’s legality persisted.
As the court exaimines the case...
The type of malice necessary to support punitive damages varies with the nature of the
wrongful act at issue in any given category or particular type of case.”
Even when using the statutory malice definition that was used in this case (intent to cause or
conscious indifference to serious potential harm), the application of that definition will depend on
the nature of the underlying tort. In a typical negligence case like medical malpractice, to recover
exemplary damages a plaintiff must simply prove that the defendant was not merely negligent, but
was grossly negligent or acted intentionally in causing the serious harm that is the subject of the
cause of action.
2008). But when a tort requires willful harm as a necessary element of liability, that willfulness
alone cannot also justify a punitive damages award.
1962) (“The fact that an act is [tortious] is not itself ground for an award of exemplary or punitive
damages.”). More is required.
cause of action itself required intentional wrongdoing).
that an employer intentionally fired them for the sole reason that they refused to perform an illegal
(Tex. 2004) (O’Neill, J., concurring) (“Every act of retaliation . . . is inherently willful—the act is
motivated by the employer’s conscious desire to ‘get back’ at the employee for exercising herCazarez, 937 S.W.2d at 453.See Columbia Med. Ctr. of Las Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, 271 S.W.3d 238, 248 (Tex.See Ware v. Paxton, 359 S.W.2d 897, 899 (Tex.Cf. Cazarez, 937 S.W.2d at 454 (requiring “actual malice” where theSabine Pilot claim falls into the latter category, since plaintiffs will always have to proveSabine Pilot, 687 S.W.2d at 735; see also Sw. Bell Tel. Co. v. Garza, 164 S.W.3d 607, 636
protected rights.” (quoting
A malice finding must require more than Safeshred’s mere intent to fire Martinez, or else every
Sabine Pilot claim would warrant punitive damages.
punitive damages are only appropriate in the most egregious cases).
Therefore, in evaluating whether Safeshred officials specifically intended or were consciously
indifferent to the prospect of substantial injury to Louis Martinez,
to in the charge must be something “independent and qualitatively different from the . . .
compensable harms associated with [the cause of action].”
this type of malice might exist “‘where the employer circulates false or malicious rumors about the
employee before or after the discharge . . . or actively interferes with the employee’s ability to find
where nursing home made employee’s conduct look worse than it was before state nursing board,Snapp v. Unlimited Concepts, Inc., 208 F.3d 928, 936 (11th Cir. 2000))).See Cazarez, 937 S.W.2d at 454 (noting that4 the “substantial injury” referredMoriel, 879 S.W.2d at 19. For example,Garza, 164 S.W.3d at 636 (O’Neill, J., concurring) (quoting Harless v. First, 289 S.E.2d 692, 703 n.19 (W. Va. 1982));5 see also Town Hall Estates-Whitney, Inc. v., 220 S.W.3d 71, 89 (Tex. App.—Waco 2007, no pet.) (finding sufficient evidence of malice
But our cases hold, and Martinez concedes, that, while potential harm to the public at large may be relevant to the
reprehensibility of Safeshred’s conduct for purposes of evaluating the constitutionality of the amount of punitive damages
awarded, only potential harm to Martinez himself is relevant to the availability of punitive damages in the first place.The jury charge included, in part (b) of the malice definition, “the potential harm to others” (emphasis added).
See Bennett v. Reynolds
(2007))., 315 S.W.3d 867, 876 (Tex. 2010) (citing Philip Morris USA v. Williams, 549 U.S. 346, 355
164 S.W.3d at 618 (“‘Actual malice’ means ill will, spite, evil motive, or purpose to injure another.” (citing
937 S.W.2d at 452–54)). Nevertheless, the example is still applicable here because “purpose to injure another” in theThe jury charge in Garza used the “actual malice” definition of malice, rather than the definition used here.Cazarez,
this case. The only difference between the evidentiary analysis in
are bound by in this case, we may consider not just intentional actions by Safeshred, but also grossly negligent ones (per
part (b) of the definition).charge tracks the “specific intent . . . to cause substantial injury” language in part (a) of the malice definition inGarza and here is that, because of the jury charge we
resulting in plaintiff’s two-year probation). Damage to the employee’s reputation or future
employment prospects is a qualitatively different injury from the firing itself, and conscious
indifference to a risk of that injury might warrant punitive damages.
Courts have also recognized malice where an employer engages in harassment in connection
with a wrongful firing.
App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1998, pet. denied) (forcing an employee to sign a false confession);See Whole Foods Mkt. Sw., L.P. v. Tijerina, 979 S.W.2d 768, 779 (Tex.
Lubbock Cnty. v. Strube
an employee out for unfavorable work assignments and conducting an unfair disciplinary hearing
prior to the firing). And malice might also exist when an employer knows the retaliatory firing is
unlawful and does it anyway.
App.—Austin 2005, no pet.) (asking, in a Texas Commission on Human Rights Act case, whether
an employer “retaliated against [the plaintiff] with specific intent . . . or gross negligence regarding
[the plaintiff]’s right to be free from such practices”); T
may recover punitive damages against a respondent . . . if the complainant demonstrates that the
respondent engaged in a discriminatory practice with malice or reckless indifference to the stateprotected
rights of an aggrieved individual.”).
could be shown in this, 953 S.W.2d 847, 859–60 (Tex. App.—Austin 1997, pet. denied) (singlingSee Ancira Enters., Inc. v. Fischer, 178 S.W.3d 82, 94 (Tex.EX. LAB. CODE § 21.2585(b) (“A complainant6 In keeping with these examples, we hold that maliceSabine Pilot case by evidence that Safeshred, in firing Martinez, consciously
and not just whether the employer knew the underlying conduct was illegal or not. Thus, in a
not be sufficient to just show that the employer knew the activity it asked the employee to do was illegal. To constitute
this type of malice, the employer would have to be aware, when firing the employee, that the law does not permit
employers to fire employees for refusing to perform illegal acts.We note that this type of malice involves the employer’s knowledge that the actionable retaliation is unlawful,Sabine Pilot claim it would
ignored a risk of some additional serious harm, such as interference with his future employment,
harassment, or terminating his employment knowing the reason for doing so is unlawful.
But while both parties agree that malicious circumstances surrounding the firing, like those
described above, would constitute malice in this case, Martinez suggests that we must also consider
the dangerousness of the illegal acts he was asked to perform. We disagree. “The legal justification
for punitive damages is similar to that for criminal punishment, and like criminal punishment,
punitive damages require appropriate substantive and procedural safeguards to minimize the risk of
is the basis for a punitive damages award must have a “nexus to the specific harm suffered by the
plaintiff” in that case.
Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell
A defendant should be punished for the conduct that harmed the plaintiff, not for
being an unsavory individual or business. Due process does not permit courts, in the
calculation of punitive damages, to adjudicate the merits of other parties’
hypothetical claims against a defendant . . . . Punishment on these bases creates the
possibility of multiple punitive damages awards for the same conduct . . . .
538 U.S. at 423.
Applying these principles to a
directive to the employee (and any malice that might have accompanied that directive) cannot form
the basis for a punitive damages award. Although the encouraged illegal activity has a connection
to the cause of action in a general sense, it does not have a sufficient nexus to the harm actuallycaused to a Moriel, 879 S.W.2d at 16–17. One of those safeguards is that the conduct thatSee Bennett v. Reynolds, 315 S.W.3d 867, 875 (Tex. 2010) (quoting State, 538 U.S. 408, 422 (2003)). The Supreme Court in Stateexplained:Sabine Pilot claim, we hold that the employer’s illegalSabine Pilot plaintiff, for several reasons.......