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Law Practice Today

October 2023

Understanding the Trucking Industry: Three Things To Know

Mike H Bassett


  • The trucking industry is critical to the success of the domestic and global economy.
  • Trucking industry attorneys need to understand the important role their clients play in the economy, the regulations governing them – and how to most effectively defend against difficult claims.
  • Attorneys also must be able to work effectively with a wide range of people, from owners and drivers to expert witnesses and insurers.
Understanding the Trucking Industry: Three Things To Know

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The trucking industry is the lifeblood of global commerce, transporting goods across vast distances to keep economies thriving. Having represented motor carriers and drivers for over 36 years, I wanted to share with you three facts about the trucking industry that every lawyer should know to handle these types of cases more effectively.

I. Economic Significance of the Trucking Industry

At the heart of the global supply chain, the trucking industry facilitates the movement of goods from manufacturers to consumers. Being able to understand the economic significance of this industry can help lawyers appreciate its impact on various sectors. Beyond its direct and indirect contribution to job creation and economic growth, the industry acts as a catalyst for trade and commerce.

Notably, the American Trucking Association reported that in 2022, a staggering 8.4 million individuals were employed throughout the economy in jobs that relate to trucking activity, including 3.5 million truck drivers employed. The trucking industry’s importance extends beyond its operations, serving as a pillar of modern economies. 

When I am defending a motor carrier or a driver, I keep these statistics – and facts – in the back of my mind as I craft not only my case narratives, but also my trial strategies.  While it’s easy for lawyers to advertise that “I Sue Bad Truckers,” the truth is that without truck drivers, our economy would grind to a halt.

II. Effective Case Strategy

In trucking litigation, we work with a wide range of experts every day. Lawyers handling these cases must have the ability to identify and engage – early in the life of a case – experts in accident reconstruction, human factors, biomechanics, and medical billing to name just a few fields. These experts provide valuable insights that can bolster the defense strategy and provide compelling testimony during litigation or settlement negotiations.

Trucking defense often involves intricate technical, regulatory, and legal concepts. Familiarity with these regulations is essential to represent motor carriers and drivers in cases that often involve catastrophic injuries – and commensurate damages exposure.

These regulations, governed by federal and state authorities, involve a wide array of aspects that affect trucking operations, from driver qualifications and hours of service to vehicle maintenance.  Navigating this complex web of regulations – and trying to determine where your client may be vulnerable - requires a deep understanding of these rules and their implications.

In addition, advancements in technology such as GPS tracking, dash cameras, and event data recorders (EDRs), have revolutionized the process of determining liability in commercial vehicle accidents. Familiarity with these technologies can be a game changer when building a compelling case for shared responsibility or to mitigate a client’s liability.

Determining liability in these cases can be challenging due to the involvement of multiple parties, such as the truck driver, the motor carrier, other drivers, and sometimes the manufacturers of the vehicles involved.  Knowing the right experts to hire is a critical skill lawyers need in defending these types of cases.

II. Insurance and Claims

Many motor carriers have substantial amounts of insurance coverage due to the potential for high-value claims resulting from crashes. In defending these cases, lawyers will find themselves working closely with insurance companies and claims professionals to handle claims, negotiate settlements, and take cases to trial.

Trucking companies and their insurers often prefer to reach settlements to avoid the time, costs, and uncertainties surrounding litigation.   This concern is especially true in some states (like Texas) where we are seeing outsized verdicts and settlements arising from commercial motor vehicle crashes.  Settling a claim or dispute allows the parties to resolve the matter more efficiently and avoid the risk of unanticipated outcomes (both for the plaintiff and the defendant).

But as I have learned over nearly four decades of handling these types of cases, the best settlements are most often reached when both sides believe that their opponent: (a) is capable of trying cases of this magnitude; and (b) willing to take a case to trial.  And the only way to send that message is to aggressively defend these cases from day one.

III. Conclusion

Handling commercial motor vehicle accident cases requires an understanding of not only the role your client(s) play in the economy at large, but also an appreciation that the trucking industry is heavily regulated.  Knowing the rules that govern the industry is a must.

Further, when handling these cases, lawyers are going to be involved very early on with a wide array of people who will play a part in defending and evaluating the case.  From trucking company owners, to drivers, to insurance claims professionals, to experts, these types of cases bring a wide variety of parties whose interests and opinions need to be considered.