So-Called ‘Nuclear Settlements’ a Major Concern in Trucking

Posted by HLL Admin

In the world of trucking, discussions about nuclear verdicts often take the spotlight. These jaw-dropping jury awards, often exceeding $10 million, send shockwaves through the industry. However, as litigation expert Steve Wood recently highlighted, it’s not just the verdicts that should raise concern; nuclear settlements have shown to be a real risk for trucking companies. We’re living in a landscape where carriers are settling cases for staggering amounts, far beyond what might be necessary.

Insights from the Trucking Industry

Steve Wood, a senior litigation consultant with Courtroom Sciences, spoke on this matter during a session at the American Trucking Associations’ Safety Management Council’s 2023 conference. He pointed out a significant fact – nuclear verdicts, although highly publicized, are rare. Only about 3% of lawsuits actually make it to trial. So, the focus should extend beyond verdicts to the settlements, which are negotiated behind the scenes.

So, what constitutes a nuclear settlement, according to Wood? It’s not just the astronomical figures; it’s any settlement that surpasses what’s reasonably expected. For instance, if a case should logically be valued at $500,000, but it settles for $5 million, that’s its own kind of nuclear verdict, a “nuclear settlement.”

Wood’s insights are valuable for both trucking companies and the legal teams that represent them. When dealing with accident lawsuits, there are strategic steps a motor carrier can take to improve their chances of securing a more favorable outcome. According to Wood, the crucial damage for either a settlement or a trial verdict happens during video depositions, particularly when drivers or safety managers offer their testimony before mediation, settlements, or trials. Plaintiff attorneys hone in on trigger words like “risk, safety, danger, harm, always, never, must, should” to push witnesses into agreeing to a “heightened duty of safety.”

The goal for plaintiff attorneys is to make carrier witnesses appear nervous, angry, flustered, and defensive. They want witnesses to seem evasive, emotional, and uncomfortable, all of which can be highly persuasive in a courtroom setting. In essence, bad depositions can pave the way for significant verdicts when a lawsuit reaches the trial phase.

Protect Your Business from Nuclear Settlements and Nuclear Verdicts

Experienced legal counsel is the cornerstone of safeguarding your interests. At Hughes Lawyers, we understand the nuances of the trucking industry. Our dedicated team specializes in transportation law, and we’re well-versed in the strategies that can help prevent both nuclear verdicts and settlements. We work tirelessly to ensure that you are equipped to navigate this challenging terrain with confidence. 

In a trial, a carrier’s overarching objective should be to convince juries that reasonable monetary awards are sufficient to make the victim whole. It’s crucial to be aware that plaintiff attorneys might attempt to persuade juries to impose punitive damages, forcing companies to make systemic changes and sending a message to the entire industry. Their perspective is simple – “Show me your money.” They often perceive carriers as deep pockets, a source of quick and easy money.

These insights should serve as a wakeup call for trucking companies and their legal teams. The trucking industry is navigating treacherous waters when it comes to settlements and verdicts, and having expert legal guidance can make all the difference. At Hughes Lawyers, LLC, we understand the intricacies of the trucking industry and can help you navigate these challenges effectively. If you’re facing issues related to settlements, verdicts, or any other employment-related disputes, we’re here to guide you. Tell us about your case, and let’s work together to find the best solution.

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