A nuclear verdict is defined as a court ruling in which the Jury awards the plaintiff in excess of $10 million. According to a study conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), average verdicts in the U.S. trucking industry have skyrocketed from $2.3 million to $22.3 million between 2010 and 2018, verging on a 1000% increase over a span of eight years and are still on the rise.
These nuclear verdicts can be disastrous if not outright devastating for trucking companies, especially small to mid-sized and independent operators. It’s not just the verdict itself that is problematic, however. The mere precedent of these cases can be enough to drive up the cost of liability insurance while also limiting access to Excess Liability insurance, both of which are crucial to trucking companies, given just how severe trucking accidents tend to be.
Of course, there is a direct correlation between this trend and an uptick in fatal trucking accidents. According to a National Safety Council report, there was a 43% increase in the number of deadly crashes involving commercial trucks between 2010 and 2019. In the cases of a nuclear verdict, smaller companies that don’t have higher insurance limits risk losing their business, either selling to a larger company or shutting their doors for good, leading to increased levels of consolidation across the industry.
So just how high can a nuclear verdict go?
“In August 2021, a jury ordered a $1 billion verdict against two trucking companies for a crash resulting in the death of a University of North Florida student that occurred near Jacksonville in 2017,” according to an article from CCJ. “In October 2020, another jury in Florida ordered a trucking company to pay $411 million to a motorcyclist injured in a 45-vehicle pileup — a verdict that reportedly could be the largest ever against a single-company defendant.”
Reducing the Risk of a Nuclear Verdict
While having higher levels of liability insurance is becoming a necessity if the worst should come to pass, it is far from the only thing a trucking company or operator can do to mitigate the risk of a potentially devastating crash and thereby a nuclear verdict.
According to a report released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there are almost 4,000 deaths every year due to accidents involving commercial trucks. One of the most easily preventable risk factors is making sure trucks aren’t over their legal weight limit.
- Overweight trucks are hazardous to both the driver as well the passenger vehicles sharing the road.
- Overweight trucks are slower to accelerate, which can increase the likelihood of a rear-end collision as a motorist unexpectedly comes upon a slow-moving truck.
- Overweight trucks are decidedly harder to slow down, especially when driving downhill. This is especially dangerous if the truck needs to stop suddenly to avoid a hazard or another vehicle.
- Overweight trucks are at a higher risk for equipment malfunctions such as tire blowouts, brake failures, and worse.
- Overweight trucks suffer from a loss of maneuverability since most of the weight is in the rear of the truck, increasing the likelihood of jackknifing and rollovers.
- Overweight trucks can cause serious damage to roadways and asphalt and can have disastrous consequences for bridges and overpasses.
Simply making sure that a load is properly distributed and within legal weight can go a long way toward reducing accidents and lowering the risk of legal action. Having an Air-Weigh On-Board Scale allows fleets and drivers to know weights instantly and not overload.
Don’t Guess: Use an Onboard Scale
Unfortunately, with tight deadlines and the ever-increasing expectations and pressures placed on the American trucking industry, the burden of weight checks often falls on the driver and can come as quite a nasty shock when they pull into a weigh station and find out just how much they’re hauling.
Fortunately, on-board scales can cut out the risk of an overweight load entirely. Using a sophisticated onboard system, a driver can watch the weight of the load and how it’s distributed, all in real-time: no more guesswork and decidedly less risk for both driver and company.
If the early 2000s have taught us anything, it’s that events like nuclear verdicts are only going to keep coming. Protecting the freight, the vehicle, and most importantly, the driver is an absolute must. While accidents can and will happen, by their very nature, truckers and firms need to do all in their power to reduce any risk factors possible, especially weight. Using an Air-Weigh on-board scale system can help to protect a company should the worst come to pass.
Since our founding in 1987, Air-Weigh has led the industry with patented, electronic on-board weighing technology. Air-Weigh innovative on-board electronic weighing solutions are known for accuracy and toughness. We provide solutions for both trucks and trailers with mechanical or air suspensions and a comprehensive product line of scales. With expertise in advanced on-board scale communications, we offer a complete vehicle weighing system that will help reduce costs, improve efficiency and maximize profitability.