Trucking & Transportation

Last year, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) published a comprehensive analysis on the notable increase in verdicts over $1 million in the trucking industry. ATRI’s 2020 study, Understanding the Impact of Nuclear Verdicts on the Trucking Industry, received significant attention, ultimately prompting ATRI to investigate verdicts and settlements in the trucking industry under $1 million.[1] As such, last month, the ATRI published The Impact of Small Verdicts and Settlements on the Trucking Industry.[2] Unlike the sensational multi-million dollar nuclear verdicts, these “smaller” payouts seemingly have little effect on motor carriers and insurance agencies. However, there is a general consensus in the trucking industry that small settlements and verdicts are increasing in both frequency and severity.

ATRI’s research focused on: (1) identifying the legal conditions that cultivate the small litigation cases in the trucking industry; (2) assessing the relationship between small payouts and increasing insurance rates; (3) quantifying the impact of crash characteristics and litigation factors on payment size; and (4) quantifying the impact of crash characteristics and litigation factors on settlement timing.[3] In advancing these four objectives, ATRI analyzed litigation data from 641 cases, over the course of 14 years.[4] Notably, the study only considered data from cases involving some form of litigation; the data did not include pre-suit settlements.[5]

The Impact of Small Verdicts and Settlements on the Trucking Industry provides key insight into the current climate of the trucking industry while also anticipating future trends in trucking litigation. The report contains several noteworthy conclusions. For instance, the study showed that settlements in trucking cases were approximately 37.7% larger than verdicts.[6] The type of injury also affected whether a case settled or resulted in a verdict. Cases involving a fatality were 393% more likely to settle and cases with a severe injury were 217% more likely to settle than reach a jury.[7]

Furthermore, ATRI’s investigation into how alleged driver infractions affected smaller payouts reinforces the importance of carrier safety practice.[8] Alleged driver infractions that resulted in the largest payouts did not uniformly relate to the accident giving rise to a plaintiff’s claim.[9] ATRI noted that “[p]oor driver history and other alleged carrier infractions can prove especially costly because they spark additional jury sympathy on the basis of corporate ethics and culture.”[10] The data also connected poor driver history with poor hiring practices, inadequate training, and vicarious liability.[11] This correlation reinforces the importance of motor carrier oversight through programs like driver onboarding and training programs to reduce payouts.[12]

ATRI also discussed how the venue of a particular case affected the payout value of smaller claims.[13] Data from states including California, New Jersey, and Michigan (all deemed “judicial hellholes”) revealed average payments significantly above the national average.[14] For example, California had an estimated average payment amount of $588,231, or 56.1% above the national average.[15] Interestingly, ATRI identified one state, Tennessee, with predicted lower than average payments.[16] In making this distinction, ATRI noted that
Continue Reading Verdicts and Settlements in the Trucking Industry: Current Climate and Foreseeable Trends

When trucking or commercial vehicle accidents occur, there is a substantial likelihood of property damage, personal injury, and potential catastrophic harm to drivers, passengers, or pedestrians. When there is a question of fault involved, competing interests between the injured parties, the insurance carriers, and law enforcement will undoubtedly arise. Drivers and their employers may face both civil and criminal litigation contemporaneously. Therefore, the company’s driver and counsel for the trucking company must carefully consider their defense strategy immediately following any accident to protect the varying interests of all involved.

Criminal charges arising from trucking or commercial vehicle accidents can range from minor to severe, varying from marked lane violations, speeding, exceeding allowable weight limits, to vehicular homicide charges. By way of example, MG+M attorneys defended a trucking operator (and parent corporation) when a driver inadvertently struck a tow truck operator who was assisting a disabled vehicle on the Massachusetts Turnpike, resulting in the death of the tow truck operator. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts charged the driver with motor vehicle homicide by negligent driving, among other charges, and shortly thereafter, representatives on behalf of the deceased tow truck operator filed a civil complaint against the truck driver and his employer (for vicarious liability), alleging wrongful death as well. The civil case resolved following a successful mediation with no personal or excess exposure. Diligent and careful cooperation between the civil and criminal defense teams beginning from the time of the crash led to this favorable outcome.

Continue Reading Defending Commercial Vehicle Accident Civil Claims with Companion Criminal Litigation: A Balancing Act

Over the past weeks a majority of states in the United States have experienced severe winter weather that has impacted the lives of millions of Americans. With severe winter weather comes dangerous driving conditions and increases in deadly accidents.

In response to the recent winter storm damage experienced throughout the country and the historic shut downs in Texas, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a regional emergency declaration covering 33 states and the District of Columbia. The FMCSA was developed to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses within the U.S. Department of Transportation.[1] Under FMCSA emergency declarations, certain Federal safety regulations, such as hours of service, are suspended for motor carriers and drivers engaged in specific aspects of the emergency relief effort. The most recent declaration in response to the states affected granted relief from Parts 390 through 399 of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations.[2]

Direct assistance ends when a driver or commercial vehicle is not transporting cargo or providing services supporting emergency relief as it relates to the severe winter storms; or when the motor carrier dispatches the driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce.[3] When the direct assistance ends, the driver and motor carrier are again subject to the Federal Regulations mentioned above, unless returning to the motor carrier’s terminal or the driver’s normal work reporting location when returning empty. The emergency declaration still keeps in place certain regulations for drivers such as those regarding controlled substances, alcohol and testing requirements.
Continue Reading The Legal Impact of Severe Winter Weather on Trucking and Transportation Companies

In the last several months, MG+M’s Transportation Practice Group has been retained to protect the interests of trucking companies whose drivers were involved in significant highway accidents. This is nothing new for the attorneys who comprise MG+M’s robust trucking and transportation counseling and defense practice. However, the recent actions of MG+M’s Emergency Response teams that were deployed to accident scenes have solidified the immense utility to our clients of placing litigators at a truck’s location within minutes of collision. It is almost a truism that a lawsuit will follow any trucking accident that causes personal injury or property damage. Moreover, in the commercial vehicle context, government agencies (most regularly, through a police force’s commercial enforcement unit or “truck squad”) are required to investigate the crash, the truck’s driver, and trucking company policies. Official investigative reports will issue. Those reports play an acute role in determining whether a potential lawsuit will resolve early or if litigation will be hampered by protracted discovery.

In short, when it comes to commercial trucking litigation, “the devil is in the details,” and the earlier litigation counsel becomes involved, the easier it is for a defendant trucking company to meaningfully contribute to an accident’s investigation by providing and preserving critical evidence. Additionally, the presence of counsel at accident scenes benefits clients by having on-the-ground resources for witness identification and management, ensuring that investigators’ questions are free from ambiguity and contained to the scope of the accident, and that company employees understand their rights at the initial investigation stage.
Continue Reading The Critical Role of Litigators in Commercial Vehicle Accident Investigations