Foster v. Landstar Ranger is an infamous case in the trucking industry. The 2011 case was filed by a Georgia woman in 2007 who was looking to hold a trucking company accountable for a fatal accident involving her husband. In this case, liability was clear: the driver ran a stop sign, collided with a Ford F-150, killed two people, and seriously injured one. The result was an unprecedented $40 million lawsuit against the company. Today, with nuclear verdicts on the rise, $40 million wouldn’t be so unheard of.
A nuclear verdict is one where the jury award exceeds $10 million. They cause carriers to go bankrupt. They ruin lives. And, they’re on the rise. However, once you set foot into the courtroom, you’ve already lost. How can you avoid getting there in the first place?
The only acceptable goal for a trucking company is zero accidents. It’s easy to forget when you’re inundated with numbers, dollar signs, and data, but there are lives behind your accident numbers. Those lives are in the hands of your drivers. It’s also easy to forget how accidents happen. The fact is, all accidents are caused by human behavior. As a risk manager, your job is to discover what causes accidents at your company and then prevent them.
While your goal has to be zero accidents, you need to be prepared for the worst. Most often, nuclear verdicts are a result of repeated shortcuts in your training and documentation, allowing an attorney to pick apart your defensive driving program. So, what can you do?
There are two ways you can prevent a nuclear verdict. They work together to provide maximum protection for you, your company, and the lives of people on the road. The first is accident prevention, and the second is documentation.
The best way to prevent a nuclear verdict is to reduce your accidents with an effective defensive driving program. It’s a numbers game. The fewer accidents you have, the less risk you run of stepping foot in a courtroom. An effective defensive driving program is built on a three-pronged approach: onboarding training, instructor training, and safety promotion.
Your primary goal must always be zero accidents. Of course, there’s no guarantee that an accident won’t happen. That’s why you need to be prepared for the worst. Our partner from Primacy, John Liberatore, is all about being quick and aggressive with providing documentation to plaintiff attorneys. If you are at fault, your job is to quickly prove that this is an isolated incident and not a negligent program. Be aggressive to show the completeness and details of your entire safety program and curriculum.
An automated compliance tracking system like A-Suite stores all the training and compliance records in one place so you can easily prove everything that you’ve invested in that driver. If you’re scrambling to make hundreds of photocopies after an incident, you’re wasting hours and potentially missing key records.
No trucking company is immune to litigation. One verdict can send you to bankruptcy. Whether it’s just or not has nothing to do with the reality of the situation. The good news is that you’re not helpless. You can take action today by improving your defensive driving program and compliance tracking systems. Of course, the true value of improving your risk management is immeasurable: human life.
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