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Litigation Targeting Semi-Truck Drivers On The Rise

A new study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform found that the trucking industry is “under siege by litigation.”

“Verdicts in trucking accident cases accelerated in size starting in the 2000s but have skyrocketed over the last 10 years, despite a decreased rate of serious trucking crashes over that time frame,” the study said. “Moreover, with the inflation of verdicts and settlements, the search for deep pockets is expanding and the circle of potential defendants is widening.”

The civic justice reform group reviewed 154 trucking litigation verdicts and settlements from June 2020 to April 2023 and found the average plaintiff was awarded $27.5 million and a median award of $759,875.

Researchers at the institute found that despite a declining rate of fatal crashes, litigation has not slowed down.

“At the same time, between 2000 and 2020, the rate of fatal crashes involving a truck decreased from 2.23 to 1.47 per hundred million large truck miles traveled — a drop of 34.4%,” the study concluded. “In other words, even though trucking is getting safer, verdicts are getting bigger. And that’s a problem.”

Nathan Morris, the senior vice president of legal reform advocacy at the institute,said in an interview that the most important takeaway of the study is that “litigation excesses have an impact that goes far beyond the courtroom. It’s something every consumer in America feels when verdicts are unchecked and not tethered to actual liability.”

Morris goes on to say policymakers in states like Texas are aware of the problem and are working on regulatory reform.

Additionally, the reform advocate warned that some trucking companies are lowering their coverage amid rising insurance costs. 

“Though it may be tempting to discard the mean numbers and focus more on the median, trucking companies and insurers alike must be aware that those extraordinary, high-dollar verdicts and settlements persist despite an improved public perception of the industry, and therefore must be part of any risk analysis,” the study exclaims.

“Although it took some time for jury trials to ramp up again after the peak of the pandemic, somewhat limiting the available data, the review suggests trucking’s improved public perception has not translated to a more reasonable litigation environment. Numerous studies, including this paper’s review of more recent trucking verdicts and settlements, demonstrate that awards are increasing at a rate that has far outpaced inflation.”

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