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Unfavorable Verdict for Trucking Industry – What You Should Know

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Tony Hopkins

By Tony Hopkins, CPCU, CIC, CRM

Just recently, the Illinois court system turned out a record-setting $54mm verdict.  Below is a summary of the circumstances, Horton’s take on the situation and the law bulletin with additional details.

$54mm Semi Crash Verdict – Summary
  • $54mm Verdict ($19mm Compensatory + $35mm Punitive)
  • Highest Illinois auto personal-injury verdict on record
  • Crash occurred in 2015 in Indiana; lawsuit filed in Cook County (Chicago, IL)
  • Semi rear-ended plaintiff’s vehicle traveling about 40 mph, who sustained head, neck and knee injuries (only person in the vehicle)
  • Allegations
    • Driver was negligent when he failed to slow down to avoid a crash
    • (88-year-old man caused the accident by driving the wrong way on the shoulder, 88-year-old entirely unrelated to the trucking company or plaintiff)
    • The driver’s employer violated negligent entrustment because the driver had a felony conviction in 2004 arising out of a road-rage incident
Horton’s Take:

This is a huge verdict that could set an unhealthy precedent in an already volatile time for auto settlements, with verdicts skyrocketing all across the country.  Although this is one of the most liberal counties in the country, a suit even a fraction of this cost is still significant.   The case will likely go through an appeals process and could get reduced, but the sheer numbers involved in this case are astronomical.  A suit of this magnitude could put the vast majority of companies with trucks on the road out of business if they were hit with a similar suit.   In our view, an incident that occurred 11 years before the crash does not seem to have a direct correlation with this accident.  What will this do to negligent entrustment cases for drivers with any measurable activity on their record (for example, DUI or Excess Speeding violation just 3-5 years prior)?   The driver shortage is real, making it almost impossible to hire a fleet of unblemished drivers, but this suit speaks to the importance of:

  • Developing a consistent recruiting pipeline – to drive up the number of applicants, allowing your company to be more selective
  • Having a great culture – that gives people more than a monetary reason to stay
  • Need to have a tight hiring process – excluding poor driving records and blemished background checks
  • Great safety culture – safety can’t just be a “box-checking” event, it needs to be embedded in the culture, embraced by the owners and executives

Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet, but this incident highlights the importance of having strong Human Resources and Safety departments, as a prerequisite to being a successful business in today’s world.

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