The trucking industry in the U.S. has been facing a tremendous surge in so-called “nuclear verdicts,” which are those large enough to cause serious financial harm to a fleet or trucking company. How can your company defend itself against these kinds of verdicts? What happens when your business is involved in a lawsuit where the plaintiff is seeking millions of dollars in damages? At Williams Kastner, our team of transportation law attorneys can help you understand your legal options and work with you to build a robust defense strategy.
What Is a Nuclear Verdict?
Nuclear verdicts are usually understood to be in excess of $10 million. That said, what constitutes a nuclear amount depends on the level of insurance coverage and the size of a trucking company.
The huge spike in these unreasonable verdicts is predominantly driven by the public’s perception that trucking companies have money to spare for hiring quality drivers and repairing their fleets and it fails to account for the lack of trained drivers available since the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors that are largely not within the trucking companies’ control.
Even when a business hires, trains, and supports quality drivers, the popular belief is that trucking companies must pay dearly for any accidents they cause, even if it means the fleet goes out of business. Buffering your fleet against the risk of these verdicts is key to avoiding them in the first place.
Proactive Measures to Protect Your Trucking Fleet
The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) conducted a study showing that within a recent eight-year period, settlement amounts in trucking accident cases increased 51.7% annually, going from $2.3 to $23 million. In addition, data collected over a recent 13-year period showed that for the first five years of the period studied, 26 truck accident lawsuits produced verdicts of over $1 million. In the last five years, there were 300.
While it may be difficult to push back against a growing sense of corporate mistrust among the general population, there are some steps your company can take to proactively defend against the chance of excessive verdicts. These include the following:
1. Ensure Proper Hiring and Training Practices
Identifying quality drivers and building their skills is the surest safeguard against facing an accident claim. When your operators stick to the maintenance, inspection, and duty hours outlined by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, they are less likely to be involved in a crash. Even if involved in an accident and ensuing lawsuit, well-trained drivers will perform better under cross-examination at depositions, minimizing the value of plaintiffs’ claims. The bottom line is that encouraging a culture of compliance and integrity can reduce your risk of a damaging verdict.
2. Maintain Equipment Properly and Conduct Inspections
When facing a claim, personal injury lawyers will attack the credibility of your drivers and your repair personnel. They will look at maintenance records trying to demonstrate that your company ignored required inspections and needed repairs. Keeping all equipment and trucks in good working order and performing regular inspections avoids not only accidents but vehicles being taken out of service by authorities.
3. Work With a Skilled Trucking Defense Firm
Even before you are involved in a lawsuit, it can benefit your trucking company to develop a strong relationship with a team of accomplished transportation attorneys. At Williams Kastner, we understand trucking law and the federal and state regulations governing the industry, and we know how to interpret and work within the law to your company’s advantage. Our team frequently works with trucking companies proactively to ensure you are protected against excessive settlements and verdicts.
Moreover, our Transportation Emergency Response Team is available 24/7 to rapidly respond to the scene of a catastrophic incident to assist with evidence preservation and compliance with FMCSA regulations. We also have litigated trucking cases all over the Pacific Northwest, and we are not afraid of doing what it takes to successfully defend your company against unreasonable claims. We have been helping clients since 1929, and we will put our depth of experience and background to work in order to protect your fleet and your business.
Speak With a Williams Kastner Transportation Attorney Today
The burden of running a successful trucking company rests on the shoulders of every owner of those companies. However, avoiding an undeserved nuclear verdict at the hands of an overzealous personal injury attorney is something you do not have to face alone. At Williams Kastner, our transportation attorneys are well-versed in virtually every legal issue facing the transportation industry and are dedicated to providing our clients with efficient and cost-effective legal services. Many of the attorneys of our transportation team have trained on semi-truck driving simulators, operated tractor-trailers, and spent time with drivers in cabs of trucks so that we can better understand drivers’ concerns and points of view.
Don’t risk losing everything when it comes to a big case that could end in a nuclear verdict. Contact a member of the Williams Kastner Transportation Team to arrange a consultation with our transportation attorneys today.
Phone: (206) 628-2421
Phone: (206) 628-2439