Proposed Legislation Would Protect Truckers From Staged Accidents
ILR President Harold Kim recently penned an op-ed for Law360 on the harms massive verdicts, known as “nuclear verdicts,” have on the trucking industry.
In the op-ed, Harold points out how “virtually all industries depend on” the trucking industry, which moves around 70% of all freight in the U.S. Yet despite the importance trucking plays in daily life, there is an 80,000-driver shortage contributing to substantial supply chain holdups. Kim also argues a big part of the blame is the high costs of excessive lawsuits.
Truckers are prime targets for lawsuits, and the industry faces more nuclear verdicts worth $10 million or more than most other industries. These massive legal verdicts increase insurance premiums and make it virtually impossible for trucking companies to find affordable insurance—if they can find coverage at all.
Some of these nuclear verdicts result from staged accidents, which put everyone from motorists, truckers, and law enforcement officials in danger and vulnerable to injuries. Staged accidents can also drain emergency response resources.
Fortunately, the problem has gotten the attention of two Congressional lawmakers.
U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Garret Graves (R-LA) have proposed The Highway Accident Fairness Act of 2021, making it a federal crime to stage a vehicle collision to get a massive award or settlement. This bill closes loopholes, keeps highways safe for everyone, and gives truckers protections against excessive lawsuits.
In a press release, Reps. Cuellar and Graves said that the bill would improve the safety of truckers and civilians on US highways, and also protect “…trucking companies from the financial burdens of defending against or settling fraudulent insurance claims resulting from staged collisions. ”
The Highway Accident Fairness Act of 2021 would:
- Assure fair and prompt recoveries for highway accident victims with legitimate claims
- Provide for Federal court consideration of interstate cases of national importance under diversity jurisdiction
- Maintain stability in the movement of interstate commerce and protect the public from the safety hazard of staged collisions
- Protect motor carriers and insurers from the financial burdens of defending against, settling, or being found liable for fraudulent claims that result from staged collisions
- Protect law enforcement agencies from expending resources dealing with the aftermath of staged collisions
The bill would also help address the growing influence of third party litigation funding (TPLF) in trucking-related accidents by requiring the disclosure of any TPLF agreements. TPLF allows outsiders to invest in a lawsuit in exchange for a cut of any award or settlement. It’s a multibillion, global industry that operates in secret, meaning defendants, plaintiffs, and even the judge often don’t know who has a financial interest in the case. Requiring disclosure of funding agreements would help even the playing field.
As our nation’s supply chain problems continue, we must support the trucking industry and find ways to bring down massive legal verdicts. The protections proposed by Reps. Cuellar and Graves is a step in the right direction.