Preventing a Nuclear Verdict: Proper Driver File Management

Est. 3 min read

At the Idelic First Annual Fleet Safety Conference, Idelic Founder / Co-CEO Hayden Cardiff sat down with trucking industry experts to talk about Nuclear Verdicts, why they occur, and how fleets can avoid them. 

Read the key takeaways below: 

Why Do Nuclear Verdicts Happen?

The standard definition of a Nuclear Verdict is a verdict of $10 million or more

One of the biggest vulnerabilities for trucking fleets is juries. Juries typically don’t have exposure to the trucking industry, so plaintiff’s attorneys can weaponize their lack of understanding and make them see a defending fleet as a threat to the motoring public. This is known as “reptile theory.”

Almost universally, plaintiff’s attorneys claim that “the fleet placed dollars over lives.” They will try to argue that there was a relatively simple preventative measure the fleet could have implemented but failed to do so in order to preserve their profits.

For fleets to avoid these accusations altogether, prevention is the first step.

The best defense against a Nuclear Verdict is to prevent a crash before it happens, and cultivating a positive safety culture in your fleet can both prevent crashes and bolster your claim that you care about safety.

Why Document Management is So Easy to Get Wrong

The most common form of document mismanagement: Out-of-date filesExample: Not having an up-to-date DVIR or medical file.

The infrastructure of the trucking industry has not caught up to technology. Trucking fleets have data coming in from so many different sources, that it’s impossible to manage it all without the right technology solutions.

There are certain behaviors that have a high likelihood of resulting in a Nuclear Verdict.

  • HOS/Logbook
  • Driver History
  • Controlled Substance
  • Left the Scene of the Crash / Failed to Call 911
  • Health-related Issue

Tip: “Exception management” can help fleets manage their data. It can be difficult to analyze all of your data, so focusing on the “exceptional” or “outlier” behaviors that most often lead to a crash can help mitigate your total number of crashes.

File Management: Best Practices to Avoid a Nuclear Verdict

What should fleets be doing to ensure proper file management? First and foremost, every driver should have a DQ file that mirrors what federal regulations require. Not having compliant DQ files is surprisingly common.

Also, fleets often add policies to their safety manual without updating their training and procedures to match it. If you aren’t in accordance with your own procedures, you’re very likely to suffer a Nuclear Verdict.

Fleets today also tend to view meeting federal regulations as “being safe,” but plaintiff’s attorneys often argue that meeting federal regulation is the bare minimum and that fleets need to go above and beyond. It’s increasingly accepted by juries that federal regulations are the minimum standard of safety and aren’t enough anymore.

Going the extra mile on safety not only preempts this attack but is a good defense strategy too.

What does the ideal document management system look like?

Consistency is key. Plaintiff’s attorneys will point out inconsistencies to prove negligence. Giving your mechanics and drivers recognition for displaying positive behaviors encourages them to repeat those behaviors. Safe fleets also will often have management review every single incident to ensure the highest standards of safety are met. This helps you proactively intervene with drivers, but also gives you evidence that you take safety seriously.

If you can’t manage your data, then it will only hurt you. You have to be able to manage it proactively. At the same time, if you’re not collecting data then you’re not meeting the highest standards of safety. You will almost certainly lose your case if you have the ability to collect data but fail to.

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