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The One Change That Could Reduce Your Risk of a Nuclear Verdict

Est. 3 min read

 Nuclear Verdicts are on the rise, but the numbers are even worse than you might think.

From 2012 to 2019, the number of crash-related trials with verdicts over $1 million has increased by 335%. Additionally, since 2010, the average size of a crash-related verdict has increased by 967%.

So what primarily leads to these cases? In ATRI’s 2020 report on Nuclear Verdicts, ATRI identified the ten pieces of evidence most commonly used against a defending fleet that resulted in a trial-loss, five of which resulted in a loss 100% of the time.


Issue Brought Against the Defendant in CourtPercent of Plaintiff VerdictsNumber of Cases
HOS / Log Book100.0%26
Driver History100.0%14
Controlled Substance100.0%13
Left Scene of the Crash / Failed to Call 911100.0%8
Health Related Issue100.0%5
Sleep/Fatigue91.7%36
Driver on their Phone91.7%12
Rear End Collision89.2%66
Work Zone / Construction88.9%18
Unfavorable Hiring Practice87.5%24

While most fleet professionals might look at that chart and think “We’re safe. We take care of these things. I don’t think we have to worry about these issues,” that’s a very dangerous attitude to hold.

John Pion, a transportation legal expert with decades of experience, responded to this attitude during a webinar on preventing Nuclear Verdicts with the quote:

“The biggest misconception about Nuclear Verdicts is people think ‘That can’t happen to me.’”

Nuclear Verdicts are a threat to every fleet, and fleets need to take action to reduce their liability before a crash to protect themselves. But when the potential causes of a Nuclear Verdict are so varied, it can feel impossible to fully protect your fleet from a liability disaster.

Fortunately, there’s one process change you can make that will reduce your likelihood of experiencing almost all of these violations: integrating your systems.

How Integrating Your Systems Protects Your Fleet

While integrating your systems won’t bulletproof your fleet from Nuclear Verdicts by itself, integrations make every change required to reduce your liability significantly easier to implement.

As an example, to address “rear end collisions,” you might target your training toward the drivers who are most at-risk of a rear end collision. To identify who is at-risk, you may look at single indicators like “hard braking events” to get an idea of who is most at-risk and assign Rear End Collision Avoidance training to those drivers.

Unfortunately, this can misrepresent a driver’s true risk. A driver assigned to routes in high traffic areas will tend to have more hard brakes than a driver in low traffic areas, without necessarily being more careless overall.

But by integrating your systems, you can start to use all of your data sources to identify patterns of risk in your drivers. For example, your HR system might contain workplace observations or near-miss events that may also indicate a driver’s carelessness. Similarly, including tailgate detection alerts in your analysis by integrating your camera data can give you further insight into a driver’s behavior.

Seeing this data alongside your hard brake alerts can give you a much better picture of who in your fleet might be putting you at-risk of a Nuclear Verdict than analyzing your telematics data alone.

Integrating your systems and analyzing your data can also help address other issues typically brought against a defendant like “unfavorable hiring practices.” 

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