What to Know About Nuclear Verdicts
You’ve heard many organizations within the trucking industry discuss how nuclear verdicts are causing issues for trucking companies. Many smaller non-fleet companies believe this issue won’t affect them, but it only takes one time for a nuclear verdict to destroy your trucking company.
With the increase of plaintiff attorneys willing to go after trucking companies, and the public opinion that holds the trucking industry to a higher standard on the roads, it’s important to be prepared against litigation, no matter what size fleet you have.
What is a Nuclear Verdict?
A nuclear verdict is a verdict of $10 million or more. The amount bears no relationship to a plaintiff’s actual damages. These large payouts are based on emotional responses from juries and are meant to punish trucking companies.
Plaintiff attorneys take on these cases to make a point about specific safety issues and the need to hold companies responsible for their drivers’ behavior. These attorneys will look for flaws in how a company is managed, including:
- Past safety records for drivers and company
People tend to hold truck drivers and transportation companies to a higher standard than others on the road. This means you must pay closer attention to how you manage your training and record keeping. You also need to ensure you have company policies that outline all expectations, and that drivers understand these policies.
Other Dangers Associated with Litigation
The most obvious risk to your company when it comes to nuclear verdicts, or any litigation, is the cost associated with paying. A large enough verdict could put a trucking company out of business, especially if they are a smaller company.
The costs of these large verdicts trickle down into other areas as well though. These rising verdicts mean rising insurance costs for the transportation industry. Rising insurance costs and nuclear verdicts have been cited as the primary cause for bankruptcy within the trucking industry.
It’s not unusual for insurance premiums to rise 50% to 100% in any given year for smaller companies. If your insurance rates continue to rise each year, you could see all your revenue going to paying insurance within 5 years.
There are also those “soft” costs associated with litigation. Even if you decide to settle out of court, you can become a target for plaintiff attorneys. You also have the time spent on the case which means time not spent earning money for your company.
While some risks can’t be controlled, much of your risk associated with rising insurance rates and litigation costs is controllable and should be controlled.
How to Protect Your Trucking Company
Your first step to protecting yourself against nuclear verdicts is to develop clear policies. Outline the required training and expectations for your drivers. Include corrective actions involved in not following these policies.
Make sure your employees read, understand, and always follow these policies. You also must follow any corrective actions involved in not following procedures. If you have that an employee is fired after a certain number of infractions, you must do this to protect yourself during litigation.
You also need to document all steps involved with your safety procedures. Maintain records of training and corrective action measures. The easiest way to keep up with most of this documentation is with online training that maintains the records for you.
Taking advantage of current technologies is an easy and efficient way to control your risk. Simple strategies such as documented training, sensors, cameras, electronic control devices, and other technologies available to the trucking industry can help you prove your record and protect your company during litigation.
You also need to be careful about your communications with and about drivers. Plaintiff attorneys will be able to access these communications during discovery. If they can find a way to hold you responsible for a driver’s behavior, they will. If they find that you sent a driver out in a risky situation, they will hold you responsible.
Improving Driver Safety
The FMCSA has categorized four types of accidents that occur with truck drivers.
- True Accidents- these are accidents caused by traffic, bad weather, animals in the road, etc.
- Negligent Behavior Accidents- These are issues such as distracted driving, drug use, falling asleep, medical conditions, or truck driver errors such as hours of service violations.
- Company Negligence Accidents- These are accidents caused by poor company behavior such as bad hiring practices, improper vehicle maintenance, lack of training, policy inconsistency, etc.
- A combination of driver and company negligence.
FMCSA data shows that only 3% of trucker accidents were true unavoidable accidents. The majority of accidents (87%) are caused by truck driver error, and the remaining 10% of accidents are caused by mechanical issues.
This tells us that 97% of accidents could be avoided with proper safety training and truck maintenance. These measures can also help you reduce your insurance costs. Plaintiff attorneys and insurance companies will look at what steps you are taking to reduce your company safety risk. They will look at how and when you train employees, how you track training participation, and how you respond to CSA violations among other factors.
This means your best bet is to avoid accidents in the first place through consistent and frequent training. With an online training system like Trucking 52, you can provide regular training in short videos that increase understanding while easily maintaining all records.
Training will also prepare drivers for what to do if an accident does occur. This will help ensure drivers are prepared to start defending your company from the moment they have an accident and you’re prepared to provide the documentation you need to discourage litigation.
Deal with the common driver accident issues such as distracted driving, driver fatigue, maintenance and inspections, speeding, etc. Prepare to defend your drivers as experienced and trained drivers with ongoing training and documentation to back it up.
Finding the Right Tools to Defend Your Safety Record
Your number one defense against nuclear verdicts is frequent and consistent online training with built in paperless reporting that allows you to track participation and progress. Prepare your drivers to deal with the pressures and issues that can cause accidents on the road.
Trucking 52 is an online training system designed for smaller companies to provide the training needed at an affordable price. We cover the common driver issues, providing what you need to maintain a year’s worth of training for your drivers.
Would you like to see how the Trucking 52 system works? We want to pay for your first 90 days of training so you can see the results for yourself.