Growing up before cellphones, the worst display of distracted driving I have ever seen was in the backseat of a Ford Pinto at the age of 15 with two childhood friends, the two cousins who were arguing over a hotly contested game of golf where money was at stake.
After giving the other a mulligan on the first hole after losing a ball, only to lose one stroke, the driver then refused to pay. Having no dog in the fight, I sat quietly in the backseat to watch it escalate into a full-blown brawl in the cabin of that Ford Pinto, as I rushed for my seat belt. We meandered side to side on a two lane highway at 45 MPH. Fortunately, we arrived at a church parking lot where the argument was concluded.
For any business today – trucking company, public entity, or non-profit organization with a commercial fleet – the potential for disaster exists. Cell phones have made the situation worse. An accident involving one of your drivers distracted on the phone could mean an injured employee, a damaged vehicle, or even a bankruptcy lawsuit that may exceed your limits of liability on your auto policy.
No company that supplies company vehicles is immune to this threat, and in today’s contentious society, without the proper written fleet policies, safety practices and insurance coverage; it could be a disaster for your balance sheet.
Trucking companies are bearing the brunt of these growing trends in courtrooms and there are millions, if not billions, of reasons to take a closer look at what is happening in courtrooms across the world. America, as nuclear verdicts occur more and more frequently.
A nuclear verdict is defined as an exceptionally high jury prize that exceeds what should be a reasonable or rational amount. Some define a nuclear verdict as any penalty over $ 10 million, although this varies from case to case.
Many different influences are contributing to the increase in nuclear verdicts, including the work of plaintiffs’ attorneys, who use a strategy known as the reptile theory to anger jurors.
The Reptile Theory is a trial strategy that attempts to use fear and anger to make the jury dislike the defendant so strongly that they will award the plaintiff in excessively excessive damages. In other words, if a jury finds that the defendant failed to enforce safety rules and in so doing created a dangerous environment for which the jury can relate personally, then a jury will punish the defendant by awarding a big verdict at trial.
One of the most worrying litigation trends over the past 10 years has been the increase in such sentences, and the percentage of such nuclear verdicts is on the rise.
Most recently, on August 20, a jury in Nassau County, Fla., Awarded damages in a wrongful death case of over $ 1 billion, after just five days of testimony and four hours of deliberation in Melissa Dzion c. AJD Business Services and Kahkashan Carrier. The jury returned a verdict of $ 100 million to the family of an 18-year-old student for pain and suffering, and then an additional $ 900 million for punitive damages.
New York State-based AJD Business Services Inc. semiconductor, according to a news4jax.com article, was distracted by his cell phone, driving beyond his legal limit of hours and without a license to drive commercial when he caused the accident that blocked the freeway. One of the persuasive factors that led to the exorbitant jury verdict was the fact that the tractor-trailer driver admitted to being distracted by his cell phone. Additionally, the driver had been given a job without a proper background check or even a commercial driver’s license. Finally, the driver had already committed offenses for aggressive driving and speeding.
Based on these facts, counsel for the plaintiff was able to essentially describe the collective conduct of the defendants as a threat to the safety of the general public and the sentence as a necessary deterrent to protect the community as a whole.
The average verdict size for a lawsuit over $ 1 million continues to increase and at an alarming rate and has particularly become a critical threat to the trucking industry, as well as to any business with a fleet of vehicles. . As a result, this trend has driven up insurance rates and in some cases is forcing carriers and businesses out of the market, offering fewer options for placing covers.
To compensate for these increases in insurance premiums, some policyholders reduce the excess insurance, which in turn increases risk at all levels. As a result, the impact of such nuclear verdicts on the trucking industry and companies with fleets is unmistakable.
To counter reptile theory and prevent further nuclear verdicts, as a risk management and safety professional, I have informed clients that it is essential to adhere to and exceed federal regulations on nuclear safety. road carrier safety (FMCSR). It’s not just that you have the appropriate written policies in place, you must communicate those policies and enforce all security policies.
With those nuclear verdicts when you hand over the keys to a company vehicle, you are handing over the financial health and well-being of your business to that driver. Business.
If you have a distracted driving or cell phone use policy, companies should be able to document that they have done due diligence from a company safety practice. Not only do you need to issue a safety policy, but you also need to communicate it effectively to your drivers, then you need to make the driver acknowledge that they have received it with their signature, then you need to go the extra mile and provide specific security. training to strengthen the company’s position.
Driver selection is probably the most important risk control countermeasure a business can take when it comes to controlling their risk exposure once the driver leaves their parking lot. It is essential to only select drivers with a good driving record and to continue to monitor their driving record. You don’t want to rely on the insurance agent or the insurance company to notify you when a driver has developed a poor driver status.
You have to be proactive. You should at least run MVRs at least once a year, and if you’re trying to be good faith in a courtroom to avoid a nuclear verdict in the future, I would suggest twice a year.
From a risk management perspective, employers have too much at stake to leave juries to consider whether the employer could have done more.
From a litigation perspective, taking a proactive risk management stance will allow the defense attorney to document your company’s and driver’s safety efforts, which will carry great weight with any jury and should reduce punitive damages if you find yourself in such an unfortunate situation. situation in the future.
Be careful my friends!