The trucking industry is under siege with lawsuits and increasingly high judgments against truckers, despite a decline in the rate of fatal crashes.
According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, the trucking industry in America is facing a significant rise in litigation, leading to larger verdicts and settlements in trucking accident cases. Surprisingly, this increase in legal awards is occurring despite a decrease in the rate of serious trucking crashes over the past decade.
The study reviewed 154 trucking litigation verdicts and settlements from June 2020 to April 2023, revealing that the statistical mean plaintiffs’ award amounted to $27.5 million, with a statistical median award of $759,875 for settlements. This upward trend persists even as the rate of fatal crashes involving trucks has declined by 34.4% between 2000 and 2020.
Unchecked and excessive verdicts have repercussions beyond the courtroom, affecting consumers across the country.
Nathan Morris, the senior vice president of legal reform advocacy at the institute, emphasized that unchecked and excessive verdicts have repercussions beyond the courtroom, affecting consumers across the country. However, some states, such as Texas, have made regulatory reforms to address this issue.
The study also found troubling trends, including certain trucking fleets reducing their insurance coverage due to increasing costs, potentially causing financial strain for carriers in the long run. To manage these risks, trucking companies and insurers must consider both the mean and median numbers of verdicts.
Various factors are driving this litigation trend, including tactics used by plaintiff attorneys to drive up verdicts. These tactics involve medical referral networks and inflated billing practices, as well as “reptile” courtroom tactics, which seek to instill fear in jurors and divert their attention from the legal elements of the case.
To address the issue of inflated verdicts and settlements, the study suggested potential solutions:
- Requiring transparency in claiming medical damages, limiting them to reasonable and customary amounts actually paid, not inflated amounts billed.
- Prohibiting the use of inflammatory arguments when a defendant trucking firm admits responsibility for a driver’s negligence.
- Prohibiting the practice of “anchoring” to ensure non-economic damages are supported by evidence, not arbitrarily chosen.
- Allowing evidence of non-use of seat belts by plaintiffs in damages calculations.
- Policymakers and judges should consider the expertise of federal agencies when deciding on the reasonableness of contracting with a motor carrier or assessing a truck’s proper equipment.
Overall, the study calls for continued action by policymakers, judges, and ethics regulators to achieve a more balanced and fair truck accident litigation environment. By addressing the tactics driving inflated verdicts and settlements, the aim is to promote greater accountability and accuracy in the legal process for the trucking industry.