Traffic crashes are an unavoidable risk in the trucking industry. Accordingly, many trucking company operators have been proactive in their approach, establishing policies and procedures that allow them to deal with these incidents efficiently.
These preparations do little to address a troubling new finding. Awards in crash-related lawsuits have exploded over the past 15 years, with verdicts of $1 million or more no longer an uncommon occurrence.
Eye-popping verdicts have grown significantly
A recent study published by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) reviewed hundreds of truck crash-related lawsuits filed over the past 15 years. The results were clear: Verdicts are getting larger at an uncontrollable rate, and these significant awards are occurring more often.
From 2010-18, for example, the monetary value of these awards grew 51.7% every single year. Over that same period, standard inflation grew 1.7%, while health care costs went up 2.9%. And from 2006-10, there were only 26 awards totaling more than $1 million. From 2015-19 – less than a decade later – there were nearly 300 awards of $1 million or more.
Lastly, the number of “nuclear” verdicts – those reaching $10 million or higher – has also inched upward.
Plaintiffs will target even the smallest infractions
For a trucking company, the best pathway to avoiding cases with these types of runaway verdicts is to take proactive, pre-crash measures. This is because a plaintiff will frequently zero in on the most minute safety violation, even one inconsequential to the accident. This might include:
- Insufficient background checks
- Drug testing failures
- Hours-of-service violations
- Logbook citations
The study authors suggest trucking companies look at Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations not as the goal, but as a collection of minimums to be exceeded.
“The ability of defense attorneys to document carrier or driver safety activities that exceed FMCSR’s carries great weight with juries,” the report points out.
Truck accident litigation is a high-wire act. Even the slightest puff of wind could send you plummeting to the ground – and this research demonstrates just how costly a fall can be. It is vital to have a robust legal defense team to navigate the situation in search of an optimal solution.