A recent story in the ABA Journal looked into a personal injury case that “sent a message to the trucking industry” and drew widespread attention. In the case, a semitrailer truck driver avoided a slowed-down passenger vehicle during a rainstorm and caused a pileup, and the article pointed to the latest increase in truck-involved roadway crashes and the verdicts that usually follow.
This article comes as many other similar pieces regarding “nuclear verdicts” make their way through the internet news cycles.
“There’s a huge increase in truck crashes that cause injury and death, and the trucking industry has not done nearly enough to hire safe drivers and train their drivers on avoiding crashes and not harming the public,” explained Levinson and Stefani’s Ken Levinson, when asked for his take on the article. “The trucking companies and their insurance companies have taken verdicts out of context and used them as pure propaganda. They came up with a term–‘nuclear verdicts’–and it’s similar to what the industry has done for decades: using loaded language to impact a jury.”
Levinson explained that this term really holds no meaning, as those injured in these major crashes deserve all the funds awarded to them when they win their cases to pay for items such as medical bills and other expenses.
“It’s really based on a falsehood–these people believe in jury verdicts when the jury sides with them, and frankly, any time a jury awards what it feels is appropriate compensation, they use that as a weapon against victims and survivors of crashes,” he said. “My take of this article and of this case is that they’re using this terminology as a weapon–they always use terms like ‘small mom and pop trucking companies that aren’t able to survive,’ when on the other hand, when there’s any type of legislation to protect victims and increase insurance limits, they oppose those.”
If trucking insurance premium minimums were to increase, more people would be protected against unsafe trucking companies.
“We have minimum insurance when we drive our cars, and right now, the trucking minimums have not increased in decades,” he noted. “They haven’t kept up with costs of inflation, or medical costs, or other expenses that survivors and their families incur. So, they can’t have it both ways. They can’t say trucking companies aren’t going to make it while not requiring more insurance coverage to help victims.”
Even though these trucking companies often complain about any potential rise in premiums, they often aren’t as costly as expected, Levinson explained.
“Don’t they want to help people who were in a catastrophic crash or get killed in a crash caused by one of their drivers?” he asked. “It’s really borderline-obscene to not want to take care of people who are harmed so seriously. I know that for me, if I’m in a car and–god forbid–something happens, I want to be able to take care of the other person. I want to take care of their medical bills, their loss of income, and I want to do the right thing. I’m not sure the trucking industry is so hellbent on doing that. Not all trucking companies feel that way, but as an industry, they’re not willing to help those who are harmed.”
In articles like the ABA’s, attorneys who are quoted regarding these kinds of verdicts often point to juries being desensitized to the large amount of funds awarded in these cases.
“They put one attorney in this article saying that juries aren’t understanding the true value of money, and that’s insulting to hard-working, honest jurors who pay attention and have a different view of a trucking company that harms people,” said Levinson. “It’s belittling, it’s insulting, and it’s shameful.”
When these cases go to a jury, the attorneys representing trucking companies also tend to complain about the little faith they have in the opinions of jurors.
“It’s almost like saying they don’t trust people to vote in a democracy,” said Levinson. “Are elections always won by the best candidate? No, but it’s the best system we have and, similar to a jury system, both sides are represented by very well-experienced, competent attorneys, and they can hire any expert they want to help present their case. Sometimes, the jury might not agree with your side, but but if you believe in the constitution and our system of laws, you must believe in the jury system. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best system in the world.”
Overall, the kinds of terminology trucking companies often use regarding the large verdicts granted in these cases shows that they may not care whether the injured victims get the financial coverage they need and deserve–and worse, that they don’t care whether the safety culture within the trucking industry is finally made to change for the better, Levinson said.
“It’s always interesting how they always use highly-charged terms, like ‘jackpot venture’ or ‘nuclear verdict,’” he explained. “Clearly they don’t want to step up and be held accountable for how their wrongful conduct harms people, instead of taking responsibility and saying, ‘We want to do the right thing and protect people that we’ve harmed,’ they shirk responsibility and come up with these highly-charged terms to taint the system, and that’s offensive.”