There’s Been a Spike in High Accident Verdicts; Are an Increase in Truck Accidents the Reason?

Truck Crash

A recent analysis of verdict and settlement data indicates that verdicts in motor vehicle accidents involving corporate or trucking company defendants in a number of states, including Texas, reveal that, from 2010 through November 2019 showed a distinct upward trend in big-dollar awards, with the sharpest increases occurring since  2016.

In all, researchers examined more than 280 state and/or federal court verdicts from a database maintained by CaseMetrix, LLC of Atlanta, which provides plaintiff and defense attorneys as well as corporations with information on verdicts and settlements. CaseMetrix, LLC provides plaintiff and defense attorneys and corporations with information on verdicts and settlements.

A comparison of the period between 2015 and 2019 with the five years previous (2010-2014) shows that the latter period has featured nearly five times as many verdicts topping $20 million-plus than in the prior five years (2010-2014). Officials with CaseMetrix made a point of noting that the firm has not changed forms or methodology in the last decade, so the increase in large verdicts is happening naturally.

Why Are There So Many Large Verdicts?

The database they examined included 5.42% verdicts and 94.58% settlements, which is roughly in line with the conventional wisdom, with little variation year over year.  Researchers could not explain the huge jump in verdict size since 2016, but they suggested that huge verdicts may be a “”self-perpetuating phenomenon, which just means the attorneys for injured plaintiffs reference recent verdicts, so they tend to ask for a little more each time.

Many plaintiffs’ lawyers, however, suggest that the recent spike in verdicts in recent years is because lawyers are doing better at encouraging juries to use verdicts to send messages to the defendants. They also suggest another strategy, called “anchoring,” is encouraging juries to “anchor” their awards around suggested numbers. In some circles, lawyers suggest that litigation financing may be making it easier for some plaintiffs to engage in protracted litigation,  which lessens the pressure from big company defendants to settle quickly.

A lot more research is necessary to figure out the exact reason, but no one expects the upward movement of verdict sizes to subside anytime soon.

One possible reason for the phenomenon may be something as simple as the increase in accident injuries and fatalities involving large trucks. Fatalities from truck accidents now make up more than 10 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide. And there are no signs of that letting up anytime soon, with truck freight shipments rising a full eight percent just between 2015 to 2018. As the number of trucks on the highways rises, so do truck accidents. And no matter how many regulations federal and Texas state officials come up with to keep trucking companies honest, the need for increased profits means the companies will always be looking for an edge.

Pushing Drivers to the Limit

As usual, the most commonly cited cause of truck accidents is truck driver fatigue, and many cases involve drivers who feel pressure to drive beyond the federally-mandated limits, just to get a shipment to its destination quickly. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver fatigue more than  30 percent of all large truck accidents cite driver fatigue as a factor. Many players in the trucking industry are very competitive and they are always trying to squeeze every dime of profit they can. That dynamic causes accidents and accidents between a large truck and any other vehicle on the road tend to be very devastating, primarily because of the size difference.

Besides drowsy driving, speed is also cited as a major factor in the cause of truck accidents. In addition, distractions, especially due to the use of smartphones and other electronic devices, is a major factor in truck accidents. Put simply, one major reason for the increase in large verdicts is because of the increase in truck accidents, which lead to very serious injuries and huge settlements and verdicts.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, deaths from trucking accidents are rising close to six percent year over year and are now at their highest level since 2007. Since 2000, the number of fatal crashes has increased by 29 percent. Statistics show that there are about 326 truck crashes every single day nationwide. The best way to reduce the number of large verdicts is to reduce the number of truck accidents. Most such accidents are preventable through the use of common sense.

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