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How a $34 million trucking crash lawsuit can help change an industry

December 17, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

And why this record 2014 trucking crash lawsuit isn’t really about the money at all

truck driver texting

Recently, I secured $34 million for a serious truck accident lawsuit. This is the largest-reported truck case in the nation for 2014. It is also the largest truck accident settlement ever by a Michigan attorney, according to the VerdictSearch reporter. Because of a confidentiality clause, I can’t discuss details of the case, the parties, the insurance companies involved or the injuries, as all are covered by a legal confidentiality clause.

I did recently share seven lessons for attorneys from this $34 million lawsuit.

Attorneys, of course, jump all over the number. Even the reporters I’ve talked with want to focus on the money. But to me, the settlement amount isn’t what’s most important. What is most important is that a case like this also sends a message to the entire trucking industry and to all the insurance companies that insure large commercial motor carriers. Truck crash lawsuits like this one actually have the power to change an entire trucking industry.

The reason? Unsafe trucking companies have a competitive advantage over trucking companies that prioritize safety because safety is always an added expense. Therefore, many companies out there – and I say this as a lawyer who has now handled over 300 trucking cases – will disregard safety and maintenance so they can bid lower than companies that hire safe drivers and who properly maintain their trucks. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

Trucking companies need to know that when they cut corners on important safety rules and needlessly endanger the public that there are actually experienced trucking lawyers out there who will uncover what these companies are doing and hold these companies fully accountable. That there will be lawyers out there who will find every safety violation and who will make them pay when they seriously injure or kill innocent people. Dangerous truck companies will not get away with it, or sweep it under the table as they so often do.

That last sentence probably requires some additional explanation. Most giant trucking companies – and the lawyers who defend them – are used to getting away with it. This is because many plaintiff personal injury lawyers don’t “speak truck.” Catastrophic truck accidents are occurring every day and require specialized expertise. But the trucking companies are getting away with many egregious violations and are not being held accountable for the injuries they cause, because far too many personal injury attorneys advertise for trucking cases but do not have the experience or knowledge to uncover serious safety violations.

These plaintiff personal injury lawyers often handle truck cases just like a car accident case, but with bigger insurance policy limits. It’s just lazy lawyering, and it allows many unsafe motor carriers to continue ignoring mandatory safety regulations because they are not paying an additional price for it. In fact, it incentivizes them to continue to ignore safety because they largely got away with it and never paid what the case was truly worth when they injure or kill some innocent motorist on our roads. And so this unvirtuous cycle continues with these unsafe motor carriers putting every good trucking company that does follow the rules and regs and that does care about safety at a big competitive cost disadvantage to the trucking companies that can undercut them on price by ignoring these safety rules, hiring unfit drivers or putting unsafe trucks on our roads.

Consider the disturbing statistics:

  • 1 out of every 5 trucks are “out of service,” meaning they are so mechanically unsafe that they have to be towed away immediately after being pulled over by law enforcement.
  • More than 100,000 truckers on U.S. roads are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • More than 5,000 people are killed each year in truck accidents.

(Source: CSA Roadcheck, American Trucking Association)

As the new year approaches, I read more and more that people should have a purpose.

Well, I have mine. As an injury lawyer for two decades, I don’t just litigate cases. I use my trucking experience – which includes more than 300 truck injury and wrongful death cases, and some record results in Michigan and nationally – to take on an industry and to help make our roads safer.

At Michigan Auto Law, I want to change the trucking industry and make it safer. The only way to do this is by aggressively litigating cases against trucking companies that intentionally sacrifice safety for a bigger bottom line.

My goal is to discover each and every trucking safety violation that led to a preventable truck accident, and hold the trucking company fully accountable for the harms and losses they cause when they ignore mandatory safety rules that needlessly endanger the public.

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