This is the first in a series of articles on how motor carriers can help avoid claims, including those that result in nuclear verdicts, by implementing and adhering to a strong safety & compliance program.
The trucking industry has undergone many changes in the last several decades. Many of us old timers remember some of the fun changes, like our first VCR, cell phone, or even trading in our chauffeur license for a CDL. There have also been more complicated changes, like emission, twin or variable pitch turbo, DEF, and increased trucking regulations. Today, we face additional challenges, like the driver shortage, more regulations, technology, and increased fuel and operating costs.
Unfortunately, the changing landscape of a motor carrier's liability is also worth a mention. Nuclear verdicts—jury awards that exceed $10 million—have become an increasing concern in the trucking industry. According to a study from the American Transportation Research Institute, from 2010–2018, the average verdict size for a lawsuit above $1 million involving a truck crash rose from $2.3 million to $22.3 million.
The ATRI study also found that adhering to safety and operational policies is essential to staying out of court and reducing award sizes. In a trial, almost any failure to adhere to FMCSA or company safety policies will be the focus of plaintiff arguments.
If you are wondering what you can do to help avoid nuclear verdicts, the FMCSA Carrier Compliance Questionnaire (CCQ) is a great place to start. It can help evaluate your current processes and identify areas for improvement. It also provides links to related regulations to reference for more information.
The first section is Registration, Recordkeeping, and Management. Here is a partial list of items to keep in mind and have documented:
Once you have determined your status on each compliance question, develop your path forward for any needed corrections. The FMCSA has no record retention requirement for this compliance questionnaire worksheet. You can complete it, formulate goals, and then refer to it as you see fit. Several of the items suggest reviewing your information periodically, so you may want to set reminders.
Another tool is your Safety Measurement System (SMS) record. Reviewing your past violations can help you determine trends and top items for improvement.
When it comes to reducing liability and crashes, I often tell motor carriers that they need to take the wheel and proactively steer where they want to go if they are wanting to change their future outcome. If they choose to do nothing or take a reactive approach to safety and compliance, they'll likely end up staying right where they are. With recent industry concerns such as increasing accident fatality rates, unsafe road conditions, nuclear verdicts, and rising insurance costs, motor carriers need to be more vigilant than ever in protecting their operation by maintaining a strong safety and compliance program.
Acuity Insurance understands the importance trucking has on powering our nation’s economy. Acuity offers access to many helpful resources related to improving compliance, daily operations, and ROI within our Motor Carrier Toolbox. Items in the FMCSA/CSA category help explain important topics such as Required Record Retention, links to relevant FMCSRs/HMRs, and information on SMS. The Management Specific category has samples of some of the required documents listed above, including the MCS-90 and MCS-150, among other useful tools for running your business.
In future blogs on this subject, we will discuss other CCQ categories and additional motor carrier toolbox items you can use to keep your trucks on the road and your business moving ahead while reducing violations and the likelihood of a nuclear verdict in the event of an accident.
Check out other trucking-related resources Acuity provides to help grow your business safely and profitably!