Injuries and property damage caused by trucking accidents often lead to high-dollar lawsuits. The forces produced by a large truck in a collision are more likely to cause catastrophic injuries and death than a typical accident involving two cars. If the truck driver is at fault, a trucking company with inadequate insurance could lose everything. Here are some tips trucking companies and owner-operators can follow to protect themselves from lawsuits.
Get the Right Insurance
The only way to avoid an insurance claim for a trucking accident is to avoid being negligent. When negligence leads to an accident, the only way to minimize the likelihood of being sued is to have an insurance company that pays claims fairly and promptly.
Some insurance companies claim that they offer lower premiums by fighting against accident victims who make insurance claims. Insurers that try to avoid paying fair compensation are interested in increasing their profits, not in lowering their premiums.
Insurance companies say that vigorously contesting insurance claims discourages frivolous claims. In reality, that strategy encouraging lawsuits by injury victims who receive low-ball settlement offers.
Every day a driver spends in depositions, in meetings with lawyers, or in court is a day that the driver isn’t making money for the company. Finding a responsible insurance company that takes a reasonable approach to settling liability claims is the first step toward avoiding lawsuits.
Inspect Trucks Regularly
Most lawsuits against truckers or trucking companies result from a claim that the driver was negligent. Some accidents, however, are caused by problems with the truck itself.
Two federal agencies funded the Large Truck Accident Causation Study, a comprehensive analysis of truck accidents. The study determined that about 10% of truck accidents occur when a problem with the truck causes the driver to lose control. Examples include:
• Cargo shift due to improper loading
• Brake failure
• Tire failure
• Wheel falling off
• Hood flying open
Problems of that nature can only be avoided by careful inspections. Cargo should always be inspected to be certain that it is loaded securely and distributed properly. Each truck should be inspected before every trip and should undergo routine maintenance on a regular schedule. Regular brake inspections and tire replacement are critical. A trucking company is at risk of being sued whenever an accident could have been avoided by proper inspection and maintenance of a vehicle.
Hire Trained Drivers
There are more long-haul driving positions available than there are drivers to fill them. The best way to attract highly-qualified drivers is to offer higher pay than competitors. In the long run, that cuts down on accidents and keeps insurance premiums under control.
Unfortunately, many companies think only in terms of short-term profits. It’s tough to stay competitive, but hiring unqualified drivers is not the way to boost the bottom line. Hiring untrained drivers will only lead to higher verdicts when a personal injury lawyer presents evidence that a trucking company should have known that its drivers were not properly trained but hired them anyway.
A shocking number of companies take an applicant’s word for the fact that the driver has a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL). A trucking company should not only make a copy of the license, but should check with the Department of Motor Vehicles to verify that the CDL is still valid. The company should also verify that the driver has appropriate certificates or endorsements for the kind of vehicle he or she will be driving.
The company should also run a check on the driver’s driving record to make sure the driver has not been ticketed for serious moving violations. It is also prudent to review the driver’s medical record to make sure that the driver does not suffer from epilepsy, sleep apnea, or some other disqualifying condition.
Checking the driver’s references and verifying past employment is essential. If a driver was fired for misconduct or ineptness, it is important for the company to consider that fact when deciding whether to make a job offer.
In addition to confirming the credentials of a new hire, companies should road test every driver, both when hired and at periodic intervals, to make sure the driver possesses necessary skills. The fact that a driver obtained a CDL does not assure that the driver is capable of handling the rigs that he or she will be asked to drive.
Enforce Compliance with Rules
Every commercial driver must keep a log that satisfies state and federal standards. The log should indicate that the driver does not exceed the maximum number of driving hours each day. Although the log doesn’t assure that the driver is getting an adequate amount of sleep, it at least provides some evidence that the driver is meeting mandated standards for rest periods.
Trucking companies often have the tools to verify log entries to assure that the driver hasn’t falsified the record. A company that does not have those tools should acquire them.
A GPS tracking device that wirelessly transmits a truck’s location allows trucking companies to learn whether the truck is in operation for more hours than the law allows. The device also allows the company to monitor a truck’s speed to assure that the driver is not breaking speed limits in an effort to meet a deadline.
A trucking company that does not monitor compliance with the law may be negligent, given the ease with which monitoring devices can be acquired and installed in a fleet of trucks. The absence of monitoring devices may be seen as encouraging drivers to falsify their logs, to speed, and to place deadlines ahead of safety.
Owner-operators should carry adequate insurance, should inspect their vehicles, and should obtain necessary certifications and endorsements. But the first line of defense for a driver who wants to avoid a lawsuit means driving safely.
Fatigue and “highway hypnosis” are the enemies of drivers. Stopping, resting, and keeping eyes constantly in motion help drivers stay fresh and alert.
Of course, drivers should never consume drugs or alcohol in the hours before driving. They should not text, operate portable electronic devices, or program a GPS device while their vehicle is moving.
Many trucking accidents occur when a truck is merging or changing lanes. Be aware of blind spots and of other traffic. The fact that you’re in the biggest vehicle on the road doesn’t necessarily mean that drivers of smaller vehicles will get out of your way.
Other common trucking accidents are front-end collisions when a truck strays across a centerline and rear-end collisions when a truck fails to stop in time to avoid a collision with vehicles that are stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Avoiding a lawsuit means being aware at all time of other vehicles on the road and understanding the amount of time it takes to bring a heavy truck to a stop in an emergency.