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Why shipper immunity bills are a bad idea

Holding shippers responsible for truck accidents promotes safety and protects us all

There are bills being introduced by the trucking industry to create immunity for shippers when a motor carrier causes a preventable truck accident. As past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Group, and as current president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association, I’m familiar with this very important transportation safety issue.

At first glance, shipper immunity legislation seems fair. Why should a shipper either be liable or be required to indemnify – and thus be found financially responsible – if the motor carrier who is transporting the shipper’s goods goes on to cause a truck accident injury or death?

But there are compelling safety issues that justify holding shippers financially responsible when a preventable truck accident has occurred. It is one that I hope state legislators and truck accident lawyers around the country are prepared to make, because the trucking industry is pressuring state legislators around the country (this past month it was in Minnesota) to adopt these shipper immunity bills.

Why does holding a shipper responsible promote safety?

Look at it now from the other side. When no requirement for indemnification (or a basis for financial liability exists), a shipper will choose a motor carrier based upon one thing: the lowest price.

On the other hand, when a shipper can be found liable or be required to indemnify for choosing a clearly unsafe motor carrier, then the shipper now has an obligation not only to choose a careful and safe motor carrier, but it also has a further incentive to assist that motor carrier with safety.

This last point is very important and almost always overlooked. But I’ve handled a few improper loading cases where drivers have been seriously hurt, or where the truck tipped over making a turn on a ramp. I’ve lost count of how many hours of service and fatigued truck driver cases I’ve seen as a lawyer helping people injured in Michigan truck accidents.

Shippers are in the best position to reduce waiting time at the dock and to schedule arrivals and loading in an efficient and safe way. That protects us all. When it is not their problem, it is not their concern.

Shipper immunity is a bad, bad idea.

Steven Gursten is head of Michigan Auto Law and one of the top truck attorneys in the country. He is past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group, and has received the top-reported jury verdict in Michigan for a truck accident case. Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his work to promote national truck safety.

Related information to protect yourself:

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Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit. Call (800) 777-0028 or to speak with one of our Michigan truck attorneys today.

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