A Texas court recently awarded $101 million to a man who left the scene of a trucking accident with minimal physical injuries. The verdict, considered one of the largest civil penalties ever awarded to a single claimant in the history of trucking litigation, is unique because the judgment wasn’t based on accident severity. Instead, the jury found the oil field services fleet carrier and their driver negligent for not following their own rules.
- During the trial, the fleet carrier’s negligence was a central theme. It was revealed that the driver had:
More moving violations in the 36 months prior to employment than the company’s hiring requirements allow
- Did not complete training that he signed off on
- Passed a pre-employment drug test, but later tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine post-crash.
Beyond the claimant’s back injuries that surfaced post-crash, the trial focused mostly on the company’s failure to follow established protocols on recruitment, training and onboarding This ultimately lead to a jury verdict that included $75 million in punitive damages levied against the truck fleet and $50,000 in damages imposed on the driver.
This stunning verdict is not just another personal injury case. It is setting a precedent that fleet operators can and will be held accountable not only for injuries caused by their trucks, but for critical deviations from established protocols and best practices for fleet management. This verdict will have long-term implications for drivers and fleet operators alike.
The following best practices will ensure that fleet operators are doing everything they can to maintain safe, low-risk operations.
- Follow your own commercial truck fleet management policies and procedures. Your very own policies and procedures can and will be used against you in a critical – or not so critical – crash situation when serious deviations from established protocols are present.
- Educate managers and supervisors about the risks of not following regulations. Managers and supervisors are under a lot of pressure to move loads in the current driver shortage. Make sure drivers that should be a known safety risk are not out on the road.
- Institute a formal pre-employment screening and ongoing MVR monitoring program. Effective pre-employment screening and ongoing MVR monitoring will provide a view into the driver’s life both before you hire them and for as long as you employ them. MVR monitoring has been proven to reduce a fleet operator’s risk and costs by identifying high-risk drivers before they become a problem.
- Work closely with your insurance broker to ensure that the company’s interests are being protected. Work with your HUB risk team to ensure that claims are being handled correctly. In the case of a critical crash, make sure that all actions of legal counsel and claims adjusters are in the best interests of your organization by reviewing them with your insurance broker and other outside experts.
- Offer drivers rewards for safe behavior. Drivers who meet safety standards can reduce vehicle crashes, promote positive brand reputation and minimize injuries. Consider monetary rewards, medical/voluntary benefits and other forms of compensation to attract and retain quality drivers.
Contact your local HUB transportation risk specialist regarding fleet management and to see how we can help your commercial truck fleet maintain and improve risk management strategies.