Don’t Let Negligence Cost Your Fleet $36M

Est. 3 min read

Another fleet fell prey to an extraordinary settlement in late September of this year. Universal Logistics Holdings, Inc. agreed to pay an additional $36 million to settle a lawsuit from a 2011 accident.

Universal’s Story

The accident involved a driver traveling the wrong way on an Indiana interstate highway. After two vehicles had to swerve off the road to avoid the Universal truck, it finally collided into a Jeep resulting in severe injuries.

Universal’s driver was not only driving the wrong way, but also was driving over the speed limit on a suspended license. He never completed the driving course with his CDL in South Carolina and had been involved in multiple accidents and violations in the past three years. His prior four terminations from previous employers resulted from tailgating motorists, felony convictions, and other accidents.

Initially on Universal’s “no-hire” list, the at-fault driver was eventually accepted under the classification of a “marginal candidate.” After hire, he received multiple warnings and was placed on probation.

While it is unknown how this driver’s story escalated this far without intervention, it is an unfortunate and familiar story for fleets to experience similar settlements and verdicts due to at-risk behavior slipping through the cracks.

How To Avoid The Same Fate

Becoming proactive in accident prevention reduces the likelihood of your fleet suffering substantial settlement costs. You don’t have to worry that at-risk drivers are going unnoticed with these tips to start reducing your liability:

Step 1: Organize Your Data

Your fleet gathers data from many different systems reaching all aspects of your operations, but for many safety teams, it’s difficult to access and analyze all the information coming into the back office. More often than not, a fleet doesn’t intend to be negligent or purposely ignore poor behavior, the trends just go unnoticed.

To start digging into the information you’re collecting, you must first understand what data sources your fleet uses, so create a list of all the systems in place to track driver behavior. A few examples may be:

  • Internal records
    • Accidents
    • Incidents
    • Injury/Illness
    • HR records
  • CSA violations
  • Camera events
  • Telematics alerts
  • Motor vehicle reports (MVRs)
  • Background checks
  • Drug/Alcohol tests
  • Asset management
  • Learning management
  • Sleep apnea

Once you create a concise list of the types of data available to your fleet, you need to identify how it can be used to better manage your drivers and safety operation. Systems like the Idelic Safety Suite integrate each of these systems into one single platform and point of record, maximizing your fleet’s visibility, organization, and understanding of data.

Step 2: Precise Escalation Process

Having a sound escalation process in place to prove that your fleet is taking the appropriate action with every driver who exhibits poor behavior is critical. You can start planning with these steps:

  1. Determine which events warrant a first warning, second warning, final warning, suspension, termination, etc.
  2. Make sure that this process is administered consistently across your entire fleet and well documented.
  3. For future accidents, you can provide evidence of actions taken for past violations, reducing your likelihood of fault.

Creating, presenting, and administering an escalation process is critical and by taking the appropriate action in a timely manner every time, you will reduce your liability.

Step 3: Retain Your Safest Drivers

Universal found themselves needing drivers and accepting “marginal candidates” to maintain their fleet numbers. Keeping a balance between corrective action for your at-risk drivers while rewarding and retaining your safest drivers can significantly reduce your liability.

Fleet safety makes it to the top of the list, transcending the traditional role of compliance and becoming a cornerstone for sustainable operations. The closures and market shifts highlight an urgent need for robust, innovative safety measures–not just as a legal necessity but as a strategic asset for navigating market volatility and controlling operational costs. Once seen as a cost center, industry-leading safety teams now find themselves at the center of profit protection.


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