In my previous article, I discussed whether the proposed tort reform for raising minimum liability insurance coverage is the answer for the increasing size of jury verdicts from 2010 to 2018. As a reminder, the average jury verdict against commercial motor carriers increased by approximately 1000% from 2010 to 2018. To combat this issue, proponents have proposed raising the current $750,000 minimum limit to at least $2,000,000.

How does raising the required minimum liability insurance coverage combat the increased injury
verdicts? It doesn’t. Sure, it will provide additional coverage, and possibly lead to more settlements,
but at what costs? Increasing the minimum limits will only have a trickledown effect that will drive
up costs for everyone. Additionally, the term nuclear verdict generally means a verdict in excess of
$10,000,000. $10,000,000 is a far cry from a new minimum limit of $2,000,000.

As eluded to in my previous article, the best answer is you. Incorporating better safety standards,
protocols, and training all reduce the likelihood of large jury verdicts. However, this cannot stop at
implementation; these enhanced safety standards must be implemented and become common practice
throughout the company.

The best place to begin implementing better safety standards is in the hiring process. It should
be common practice to conduct criminal background checks, motor vehicle background checks,
employment background checks, driving references, and drug screenings when considering candidates
for hire. Not abiding by these simple directives can prove extremely costly in the event an accident
does occur. For example, if a driver has a history of accidents or commercial DWIs, background
checks would inform the company at the outset. Failing to know about an employee’s history can prove
costly if litigation results. It is easy for a Plaintiff’s attorney to portray a company’s weak hiring process
as disregard for the safety of others.

As stated above, safety standards cannot begin and end with the hiring process. Strict hiring standards
with lackadaisical training and/or record retention can be even more costly. In a recent article
published by Today’s Trucking, Lia Arseneau of Staebler Insurance said it best, “If you have a robust
hiring process and weak follow-through, anything you are weak at is where [plaintiff’s lawyers] are
going to go.” Any misstep allows an attorney to use the cliché, “profit over safety.”

Therefore, after following all the required regulations for hiring a candidate, it is important to
maintain a complete and organized driving file for each employee. A company should also implement
continuing training exercises and programs to keep drivers knowledgeable on current safety protocols,
techniques, and technology that could enhance the ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle
safely. It is always better to be ahead of safety trends within the industry than behind.

Nothing in this article is to be confused with or to supplement the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration requirements. Companies must adhere to all the rules and regulations. However, it is
best to think of the rules and regulations as the bare minimum. As General George S. Patton stated,
“Always do more than is required of you.” Doing more than required will demonstrate that safety is the
company’s number one priority, and should begin reversing the upward trend in nuclear verdicts.

If the implementation of enhanced safety standards cannot solve the increase in nuclear verdicts, is
it time for the federal and state government to considering capping recovery in commercial motor
vehicle litigation? I will address this issue in future articles.

Photo of Attorney Williams Britt

Williams Britt
Charlotte, NC