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Avoiding Nuclear Trucking Lawsuit Verdicts

The trucking industry is no stranger to litigation, but in recent years, "nuclear verdicts"—verdict awards exceeding $10 million—have become alarmingly common. These staggering payouts can cripple trucking companies, leading to skyrocketing insurance premiums, financial instability, or even bankruptcy. To safeguard against these devastating lawsuits, trucking companies must adopt a variety of risk management strategies. Here are a few key steps and strategies to help avoid nuclear verdicts and lawsuits:



Record-Keeping Practices

Record-keeping processes should be a priority for all trucking businesses. Here are a few categories that should be extremely well-documented:


A. Training Records

  • Maintain comprehensive records of all training sessions attended by drivers, including dates, topics covered, and completion status.

  • Ensure all drivers’ certifications and compliance documents are up-to-date and readily accessible.


B. Maintenance Logs

  • Document all vehicle inspections and maintenance activities, noting any issues identified and the actions taken to resolve them.

  • Keep a detailed log of the preventive maintenance schedule and adherence to it.


C. Incident Reports

  • Record all details of any accidents or incidents, including driver statements, witness accounts, photographs, and police reports.

  • Document any follow-up actions taken after an incident, such as additional training, policy changes, or disciplinary measures.


D. Communication Records

  • Keep records of all communication with drivers regarding safety protocols, schedules, and compliance requirements.

  • Document all interactions with customers and stakeholders.


Safety and Compliance

A. Implement Comprehensive Safety Programs

  • Conduct ongoing training programs covering safe driving practices, defensive driving, and compliance with regulations. Emphasize the importance of adhering to hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, which are designed to prevent driver fatigue—a significant factor in many trucking accidents.


B. Compliance Audits

  • Conduct compliance and safety audits regularly. Look for gaps in your policy or processes for improvement opportunities.


C. Law and Regulations

  • Stay up to date on any changes to laws and regulations in the trucking industry. Regularly refer to the FMCSA website for recent regulation news.


D. Thoroughly Vet Drivers

  • Vet drivers thoroughly to ensure they do not have major red flags or unsafe driving history.


Equipment Maintenance

A. Regular Inspections

  • Require drivers to conduct thorough pre-trip and post-trip inspections, documenting any issues found on a DVIR and ensuring they are addressed promptly. Check out our DVIR template here!

  • Schedule comprehensive 3-6 month inspections to ensure all vehicles meet safety standards and regulatory requirements.


B. Preventive Maintenance

  • Implement a preventive maintenance schedule based on the manufacturer’s recommendations and historical data. This includes regular oil changes, brake checks, tire inspections, and other routine maintenance tasks.


C. Address Problems Early

  • Address any identified issues immediately to prevent small problems from escalating into major safety concerns.


Driver Health & Wellness

A. Improve Physical Health

  • Offer regular health screenings to detect and address common health issues such as obesity, sleep apnea, and hypertension.

  • Provide access to fitness programs or facilities or memberships to encourage physical activity and healthy living.


B. Improve Mental Health

  • Offer support for mental health through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), providing resources for stress management, counseling, and mental health care.

  • Promote a healthy work-life balance by ensuring drivers have adequate time off and are not overworked.


C. Offer Fair Wages & Benefits

  • Ensure drivers are compensated fairly, offering competitive wages that reflect their skills and experience. This can reduce turnover and attract skilled, responsible drivers.

  • Implement performance-based incentives to reward safe driving and compliance with regulations.

  • Provide comprehensive health insurance plans that cover physical and mental health services.

  • Offer retirement plans such as 401(k) matching to help drivers plan for their future.

  • Ensure drivers have access to paid time off for vacation, illness, and personal needs.


Robust Insurance Coverage

A. Adequate Coverage

  • Ensure your insurance policies provide sufficient coverage for potential liabilities, including higher limits for catastrophic accidents. You can learn more about insurance requirements here.

  • Consider specialized policies that cover unique risks associated with your operations, such as hazardous materials transport.


B. Review and Adjust

  • Regularly review and adjust coverage to reflect current risks and industry standards.

  • Work with insurance experts to identify potential gaps in coverage and ensure your policies meet your needs. PRO-TIP: To learn the ins-and-outs of trucking insurance, check out our Definitive Guide to Trucking Insurance here.


Legal Preparedness

A. Legal Counsel

  • Maintain a relationship with experienced legal counsel specializing in transportation law.

  • Consult with your legal team regularly to ensure compliance with evolving regulations and to prepare for potential legal challenges.


B. Documentation

  • This one is worth repeating! Keep meticulous records of all training, maintenance, and compliance efforts to provide a solid defense in case of litigation. Document all incidents, including accident reports, witness statements, and communication with relevant parties.

 

Incident Response Plans

A. Emergency Procedures

  • Develop and regularly update emergency response plans for accidents, ensuring drivers know the correct procedures.

  • Conduct regular training sessions and drills to ensure drivers and staff are prepared for emergencies.


B. Accident Investigation

  • Implement thorough accident investigation protocols to understand causes and prevent future occurrences.

  • Use root cause analysis to identify underlying issues and develop corrective actions.


Avoiding Nuclear Verdicts

Avoiding nuclear verdicts and lawsuits in the trucking industry requires a comprehensive and proactive approach. By prioritizing meticulous record-keeping, rigorous safety and compliance measures, regular equipment maintenance, and the well-being of drivers, trucking companies can significantly mitigate risks. Additionally, ensuring robust insurance coverage and legal preparedness, coupled with detailed incident response plans, can fortify a company's defenses against potential legal challenges.


 

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Soshaul Logistics LLC and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. It is meant to serve as a guide and information only and Soshaul Logistics, LLC does not assume responsibility for any omissions, errors, or ambiguity contained herein. Contents may not be relied upon as a substitute for the FMCSA's published regulations. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction or operation.

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