One of the realities of the commercial trucking industry is that accidents happen. While most drivers will go through their careers without a major accident, an 18-wheeler crash can involve substantial damage. Moreover, others may be injured or killed in an accident that may occur due to a wide range of factors.
Avoiding the Nuclear Verdict
When juries are selected to hear the facts concerning any accident, they are often in the position to award substantial damages after a guilty verdict is rendered. In some cases, these damages are so large, those amounts are considered “nuclear” due to their impact on any trucking firm or defendant.
One example of such a verdict occurred in 2021 when a Texas jury awarded the family of an elderly woman with a total of $730 million in damages. The woman was killed when a truck with an oversized load drifted into her lane and caused her death.
There are other examples of such huge awards. However, the common thread in such awards is not due to the accident itself so much as the safety violations that were found to be involved.
A recent article on the Transportation Topics website addresses this reality and provides some helpful insights into how truckers and their firms can avoid facing such judgments.
Of course, insurance companies are intimately involved in evaluating how to enhance truck safety and avoid such outcomes. According to Bryan Smith, a vice president of HUB Insurance, “Companies that have subscribed to a safety culture and live and breathe it have stabilized premiums and don’t have a fear of nuclear verdicts because there are very few gaps that can be exposed.”
Thus, the optimum way to avoid such a verdict is to develop a culture of safety that prevented an accident in the first place.
A Proactive Stance
The core lessons from a careful study of the nuclear verdicts include several definable steps that will mitigate the risk of accidents and their consequences. These include:
- Active and consistent safety processes and efforts
- Sharing and documenting all such activities
- Aggressive use of technology
- Viewing the first 24 hours after a possible claim as vital
A primary objective of the opposing side in a major jury is to show the accident occurred, at least in part, because of a systemic failure to focus on safety within the organizational culture. To avoid such a finding or impression, each company must keep current and accurate statistics and records that support their focus on safety. The records that are most useful show full documentation of consistent and effective hiring and training processes and procedures.
The article discusses that juries will see large judgments as a means to force changes in corporate behavior. Doug Marcello, a lawyer with Bluewire, helps firms manage risk and vulnerabilities. Showing an accident is not due to such systemic failures is essential, according to Marcello.
Success in this effort requires planning and the use of practical defenses, such as cameras, telematics, and active braking. These show a high level of concern for safety, as well as provide factual insights into any accident. However, Dan Cook, another insurance executive, notes that merely having the information is not sufficient.
Carriers must use the information to shape their policies and training for it to have the intended effect. This observation underlines the reality that many firms are overwhelmed by the data and information that they can access through today’s technologies.
A strong recommendation within the article is to ensure that aggressive steps are taken in the first 24 hours after any claim that involves serious injuries or fatalities. This includes getting experts on the ground immediately and collecting statements, conducting accident reconstruction, and ensuring no mitigating factors are overlooked.
The costs of avoiding a nuclear verdict are significant. However, as the term implies, the costs of such a situation can be catastrophic and well worth the cost of prevention.