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.
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.