“Nuclear verdicts.” “Reptile courtroom tactics.” Billboard attorneys are assaulting the trucking industry through litigation, with multi-million-dollar awards becoming more and more common.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) documents and studies the impact of litigation on trucking, tracking both large and small but numerous verdicts.

Now the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, through its Institute for Legal Reform, is building on the ATRI research. Chamber researchers offer an overview of truck accident litigation and its effect, not just on trucking, but on the customers of trucking and ultimately, the U.S. economy. The business advocacy organization goes beyond recounting the dollars lost to litigation by offering solutions to unreasonable jury awards against trucking.

The Chamber aims its solutions at state and federal legislators, judges, and at the bodies overseeing the ethical conduct of trial attorneys. But every trucking defense lawyer should add these resources to their arsenal – an argument that resonates in court can save everyone headaches down the line:

  • Transparency in medical damages. Whether by legislation or acts of courtroom judges, juries should only see reasonable and customary amounts actually paid for medical treatments, not the inflated amounts often initially billed.
  • Disclosure of referral relationships. Plaintiff attorneys develop relationships that enhance their financial rewards: medical practitioners who inflate fees to a level that benefits them and the trial attorney; financiers who underwrite litigation in return for a cut of the action; attorneys who convince clients to forego filing medical insurance claims, to eliminate the moderating presence of an insurance company. Judges should ensure that attorneys fully disclose any relationships with a vested interest in the financial awards of a case.
  • Prohibition of inflammatory arguments. Trial lawyers will seek a second bite at the same apple by arguing motor carrier negligence in hiring the involved truck driver, or that the trucking company must pay for past sins. Once a motor carrier accepts responsibility for any proven negligence in the accident, including any missteps by its driver in this instance, the judge should halt all other trial attorney arguments. There is only one case in front of the court: the immediate cause of action.
  • Reasonable caps on non-economic damages. Compensation for pain and suffering often inflates jury awards. State legislatures should adopt reasonable caps to verdicts. That alone will encourage settlements.
  • Prohibition of “anchoring”. How much should a jury award? Trial attorneys will float a number, without any supporting evidence, in an effort to “anchor” that number in the jurors’ minds. Many courtrooms purposefully separate the trial phase from the damages phase to help prevent unsubstantiated inflation of damages. Defendants should demand that award amounts be based in evidence.
  • Permission to show non-use of seat belts by plaintiffs in calculating damages. Every state, except New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, requires motorists and front seat passengers to use seatbelts because they save lives and reduce injuries in an accident. W plaintiffs have not acted in accordance with the law, any related damages should be appropriately reduced.
  • Clarification of standard of care and need to equip. Trial attorneys will ask the jury to decide just how safe a motor carrier should be or what new trucking technology or equipment might have prevented or mitigated the accident if only the motor carrier had used it. Trial attorneys will bring in their own “experts” to opine on these matters. But only two opinions should matter: the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations on motor carrier safety measures, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on what equipment a truck must have. Courts should defer to these federal agencies.

Of course, motor carriers and professional drivers should stay compliant and avoid accidents entirely as first steps in preventing a nuclear verdict. Keeping up-to-date by reading the PrePass blogs is a good start.

The PrePass blog and podcasts are published as a public service of PrePass®, the most reliable and technologically advanced weigh station bypass and integrated electronic trucking toll payment platform in North America. PrePass also includes INFORM™ Safety and INFORM™ Tolling software for improving truck safety scores and lowering toll costs.