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Pugh v. Junqing

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 20, 2018

TIFFANY PUGH, Plaintiff,
v.
FANG JUNQING and YING LAN TRUCKING EXPRESS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an action for personal injuries sustained by Tiffany Pugh ("Plaintiff) as a result of a collision with a tractor-trailer owned by Ying Lan Trucking Express ("Trucking Express") and driven by Fang JunQing.[1] Trucking Express and JunQing (hereinafter collectively referred to as "Defendants") move for summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages and for a bifurcated trial on the questions of compensatory and punitive damages. Both motions are opposed.

         Background

         Plaintiffs complaint includes three counts: (I) a claim of negligence against Fang arising from his operation of the tractor-trailer; (II) a claim of negligence against Trucking Express for its training, supervising, and hiring of Fang and its maintaining, repairing, and equipping of the tractor-trailer; and (III) a claim of vicarious liability of Trucking Express for the negligence of Fang. Plaintiff requests an award of punitive damages in the two negligence counts.

         Fang moved to the United States from China in November 2011. (Fang Dep. at 18, PI. Ex 3, ECF No. 51-3.) He then took English language classes at a school in Los Angeles. (Id. at 17-18.) The classes ended in May 2012. (Id. at 18.) In November 2012, Fang got a driver's license. (Fang Dep., Def. Ex. B at 35; ECF No. 46-9.) He had not driven when in China. (Id.) In approximately March of 2013, he took a six-month course in a commercial truck driving school, the Class A Driving School in Los Angeles. (Id. at 30.) The school did not issue any certificates. (Fang Dep., PI. Ex. 3 at 31.) In September 2013, he received his commercial driver's license ("CDL") from California. (Id. at 23-24.)

         Fang left his job as a server in an Arizona restaurant in June 2013. (Id. at 46-47.) He had been in Arizona for approximately one year. (Id. at 19.)

         At some point, Fang contacted Ying Lan about at driving job with Trucking Express, owned by Ying and her husband. (Fang Dep., PI. Ex. 3 at 35, 37; Ying Dep. PI. Ex. 2 at 7; ECF No. 51-2.) She manages the company; her husband maintains the trucks - at the relevant time, there were two - and trains the drivers. (Id. at 7-8, 10.) Ying testified Fang's parents asked her to give Fang a chance and informed her she would have to train him. (Id. at 16.) She had known Fang's parents in China. (Id. at 9.) She decided to hire Fang for four reasons. (Id. at 16.) First, he had a college degree. (Id.) Second, his parents told her he was a dutiful son with manners and a sense of responsibility. (Id.) Third, they entrusted him to her care. (Id.) Fourth, her husband had over twenty years' experience driving trucks and could train Fang. (Id. at 17.)

         After speaking with Fang, she had him sign some forms. (Id. at 21.) Ying testified Fang did not fill out an application form requiring, inter alia, that he certify the information he was providing was accurate and correct. (Mat 21.) She trusted him. (Id.) She knew when hiring Fang that he had not worked as a commercial truck driver before. (Id. at 22.)

         Fang testified that the forms he completed, including one titled "Driver Proficiency and Authorized Vehicles, " were explained to him in Mandarin. (Fang Dep. PI. Ex. 3 at 48.) Had they not been, he could have taken the forms home and looked up the terms in order to understand them. (Id.) Ying allowed Fang "to sign and attest to his own 'Driver Proficiency' form ... four months before the subject wreck, without any management or supervisor signing or attesting to same." (Defs. Rely Ex. 1 at 4, ECF No. 56-1.) Ying testified that the forms shown her at the deposition were not interpreted for Fang because he said he could read them. (Ying Dep., Defs. Ex. A at 13.) Among the forms signed by Fang was one stating that "[d]rivers are expected to adhere to all company policies and procedures as instructed by company owner and comply with DOT [Department of Transportation] CDL regulations." (Defs. Ex. 46-3.) The driver requirements for Trucking Express included that the driver must be "[a]ble to read, write, and speak fluent English"; "[h]ave a minimum of 9 months recent, verifiable CDL experience"; and "[h]ave no more than one preventable accident in the past 12 months." (Defs. Ex. 46-4.) A DOT regulation requires a written, signed, and certified employment application, "listing among other things, social security number, residential address history, 'nature and extent of applicant's experience, ' and detailed work history." (Defs. Reply Ex. lat 4) (quoting 49 C.F.R. § 391.21).

         Fang started training with Trucking Express in April 2015 and began driving for them in July 2015. (Fang Dep., PI. Ex. 3 at 46.) Asked about a DOT regulation that a driver undergo a road test before working as a driver, Ying explained that Trucking Express considers the driver's license as proof of a road test. (Ying Dep., PI. Ex. 51-2 at 27.) Also, her husband took Fang "on a route to see how he drove." (Id.)

         On November 12, 2015, Fang was driving a tractor-trailer on Interstate 44 in St. Louis County when he rear-ended the stopped car ahead of him. (Defs. Ex. 46-6; Fang Dep. At 71-74.) Plaintiff was the driver of the sedan. (Pugh Dep. at 33-34.) Fang was not tested for drugs after the accident. (Ying Dep. at 35.)

         Fang testified in his deposition that the accident did not occur in a construction zone and there were no warning or road signs. (Fang Dep. at 70-71.) Plaintiff testified it did occur in a construction zone. (Pugh Dep., PI. Ex. 51-7 at 29.) The police report lists the accident site as a work zone. (Defs. Ex. 46-6 at 3.) Defendants have admitted that it occurred in a construction work zone. (Defs. Reply Ex. 1 at 8.)

         Fang completed an incident report on the accident in Mandarin when he returned to Los Angeles. (Fang Dep. at 13, 16.) He was questioned in his deposition about his proficiency in English. Asked if it was fair to say he was not fluent in English, Fang replied that would be "Incorrect." (Id. at 8.) Asked if he was fluent, he replied his "basic English [was] okay and he did not know what the questioner meant by "fluent." (Id.) He can read and speak English, but could not testify in English and needed an interpreter. (Id. at 7-9.) He does not feel that his English is at a level "well enough to study." (Id. at 20.) He spoke Mandarin with Ying's husband and with the other driver for Trucking Express. (Id. at 34, 67.) When completing forms for Trucking Express, he did so in Mandarin. (Ying Dep. at 30.) The CDL test was given in English; the testers for both the personal driver's license and the CDL spoke English. (Fang Dep. at 79.)

         Twice before November 2015, Trucking Express was cited by the DOT for employing drivers who did not have the required fluency in English. (Ying Dep. at 37.) Ying was aware before November 2015 of the DOT regulations ...


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