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Protecting Fleets in the Age of Litigation

Posted: February 13, 2018

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No matter how experienced drivers are or how much a fleet invests in safety initiatives, vehicles will be involved in crashes. But, there are ways to reduce accident frequency and protect the business.

According to Transport Canada, 20 percent of all accidents involve a large truck/commercial vehicle, and through its National Collision Database Online reports that five percent of all total accidents in Canada involved commercial vehicles in 2014.

While data about the costs of these accidents is not readily available in Canada, the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Safety Association (FMCSA) reports that 4,311 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes and 87,000 in injury crashes in the U.S. in 2015. That’s more than 11 fatal crashes and 238 injury crashes every day.

As seen in the same report, the average cost of a large-truck related injury is $462,366 USD per crash a while the average cost of a fatal large-truck accident can skyrocket up to $11.6 million. In total, the estimated annual cost of accidents involving large trucks is well over $100 billion.

These are numbers carriers simply can’t ignore. Speeding of any kind is still the biggest driver-related factor in all accidents, of course. But, the rise of distracted driving caused by the ubiquitous use of smartphones is rapidly growing in significance. No matter who’s ultimately at fault, if an accident requires litigation, 95 percent of those costs will be borne by commercial carriers.

Who is Really to Blame?
It won’t be a surprise to anyone in the transportation industry that the vast majority of accidents involving large trucks are not caused by professional drivers. You may, however, be surprised to learn just how lopsided those numbers actually are.

A University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study found that car drivers were assigned contributing factors in 81 percent of crashes involving large trucks, versus only 27 percent for professional drivers.

So, if passenger car drivers — the drivers who don’t perform pre-trip inspections of their vehicles, aren’t responsible for compliance, and whose vehicles aren’t heavily-regulated by law enforcement — are largely responsible for accidents on our roadways, why are carriers paying the vast majority of the associated costs?

The Arguments Against Drivers
The fact of the matter is that fleets are disproportionately punished for accidents involving large trucks. Right or wrong, plaintiff attorneys for these types of cases will typically base their case on several subjective, but ultimately effective, arguments:

  1. These are professionals: Truck drivers are professional drivers and so should be held to a higher standard of accountability.
  2. Regulatory compliance: The driver and vehicle’s compliance paperwork was missing or incorrect and therefore the vehicle could have been malfunctioning.
  3. Unsafe driving: The truck driver was reported to have been driving in an unsafe manner. This could be from speeding, following too closely behind other vehicles, swerving between lanes, or any number of other causes.
  4. Lack of objective information: Without detailed data to reconstruct the events leading up to — and including — the time of the accident, the arguments are largely based on oral accounts that provoke an emotional response from the jury.

What This Means for Fleets
The roadways have always been a dangerous place to do business. But with smartphones and other connected devices becoming more popular all the time, distracted driving — and the odds that any fleet will be involved in a serious accident — are only going to get worse. And, even though we know professional drivers are much less likely to be at fault in any major accident, we also know that the transportation industry pays the vast majority of all settlement and litigation costs.

Even one judgement against a fleet, no matter who was ultimately at fault, can destroy profit margins for an entire year — or more. And the long-term damage of having the company name splashed across headlines can’t be overstated, either. Ensuring drivers fully comply with industry regulations will only take a fleet’s case so far. Thankfully, fleets today have access to technologies to help defend against predatory lawsuits and perhaps even prevent accidents before they occur.

Video Evidence is Reality
The best witness you can ever have in court is a video of the accident in question. Unlike witness statements, data on a spreadsheet, or even physical evidence from the scene, video can’t be twisted by an attorney to mislead or incite the jury. A video simply shows the event exactly as it happened.
Video evidence also eliminates the jury’s difficult decision of whether or not to believe a driver’s account of the events. It also allows the jury to make their decision based on what they see, rather than by how a lawyer is telling them to feel.

With video of an accident, carriers will know what actually happened so they can make the correct decision on how to proceed. If the driver is at fault, fleets can quickly settle, making sure that families are taken care of and that less money goes into unnecessary litigation. And if the fleet isn’t at fault, they can potentially avoid long, expensive legal battles and all the bad press that goes along with them.

Given how much today’s accident litigation has changed from years past, and how high the stakes are, fleets simply cannot take the risk of facing a jury without the best possible witness. An accurate video, such as what Omnitracs’ Critical Event Video can produce, depicts what actually happened — allowing you to not only protect your fleet in the age of litigation, but also identify risky drivers and reduce dangerous driving behaviors.

Ultimately, the goal of any carrier isn’t to just protect themselves from lawsuits, but rather to protect the health and well-being of their operators and other drivers on the road. The best defense for accidents is preventing them from ever occurring in the first place — something that in-cab video monitoring can help with as well.

Fleets using in-cab video solutions report 20% fewer accidents on average. When drivers know they are being monitored, they are less likely to practice unsafe driving. Even in cases where drivers still exhibit dangerous driving, fleets can use the video as a tool to help coach and train the drivers to fix their behavior.


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