CRST, Inc. v. Superior Court (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1255

A truck driver allegedly caused an accident. Unbeknownst to his employer, he had a significant pre-employment history of alcohol and drug abuse and vehicle accidents.  This was not discovered by a third-party which handled pre-employment screenings.  The driver also had some minor accidents and speeding incidents while working for the employer.  In addition to suing the driver, the plaintiff sued the employer for negligent hiring/retention and for punitive damages.  The trial court granted summary adjudication for the driver as to punitive damages, finding there was no evidence alcohol or drugs were a factor in the accident.  But it refused to strike punitive damages against the employer.

GMSR sought interlocutory writ relief on the employer’s behalf.  After the issuance of an alternative writ and oral argument, the Court of Appeal held, in a published decision, that the punitive damage claims against GMSR’s client had to be stricken.  The appellate court agreed with GMSR that the employer’s lack of knowledge about the driver’s background did not justify punitive damages nor did minor prior driving mishaps by the driver.  It also held that to the extent there was a triable fact issue as to whether the driver’s direct supervisor knew about an alleged construction-zone incident, summary adjudication was required because the frontline supervisor was not a managing agent.

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