‘Nuclear’ Verdicts Rise in Trucking Lawsuits

One key factor contributing to trucking’s increasingly challenging insurance market is the proliferation of “nuclear” verdicts—judgments of $10 million or higher awarded in cases involving trucks.

Nick Saeger, associate vice president for pricing and underwriting at Sentry Insurance, said “social inflation” is contributing to the growth of these high-
dollar awards as plaintiffs’ attorneys seek to play on the jurors’ emotions to drive the verdict, regardless of facts.

In practice, plaintiffs’ attorneys are trying to reach the “reptilian” part of the jurors’ brains, which instinctively wants to protect family and community from danger—and do so through their verdict. The strategy calls on fear and revulsion and seeks to influence juries to deliver verdicts intended to punish the defendant trucking firm and send a message to the industry.

At the same time, plaintiffs’ attorneys are more aggressively targeting the trucking industry.

As part of this trend, attorneys are conducting deep research into trucking company history, operations, practices, procedures and documentation, seeking evidence to support claims of institutional negligence or bad practices that could allegedly contribute to poor safety and cause accidents.

Litigation financing is another key trend, Saeger said. In some cases, a plaintiff’s attorneys may not have the financial resources to pursue what can be lengthy litigation all the way to the finish line, which could take years. But investors, such as hedge funds, seeing the prospect of a financial windfall, will finance the attorney’s expenses.

Trucking defense attorney Doug Marcello, a partner at Marcello & Kivisto, has seen the dramatic rise in aggressive law firms promoting themselves as specialists in trucking liability litigators.

With medical malpractice reforms lessening the prospect of big paydays in that arena, “trucking has become [the] profit center for a lot of plaintiff attorneys,” said Marcello, who, along with his law partner, also has a commercial driver’s license. “They live by the mantra, ‘Hit a truck, get a check.’ They look at an 18-wheeler as a rolling ATM machine.”

Source: Fox Business