Accidents involving commercial trucks can result in serious injuries and the potential for significant damages. With nuclear verdicts in commercial vehicle accident litigation on the rise, significant financial losses are at stake, so companies are rightfully looking for ways to avoid them. West Virginia (WV) companies should work with an experienced WV commercial truck accident defense lawyer to discuss how to prevent nuclear verdicts in commercial vehicle litigation.
The Rise in Nuclear Verdicts in Commercial Vehicle Accident Litigation
According to an American Transportation Research Institute study, nuclear verdicts have risen since 2006. Further, the size of nuclear verdicts has increased by more than 51 percent compared to the standard rate of inflation of 1.7 percent between 2011 and 2018.
Fortunately, the law provides commercial trucking companies and the companies that insure them the right to defend themselves from claims and lawsuits made by injured parties to mitigate against excessive damages awards. A WV commercial truck accident defense lawyer can help you develop strategies to avoid and cover potential liabilities due to trucking accidents and help you craft a strong defense when a claim or lawsuit is filed against you.
Avoiding Nuclear Verdicts in Commercial Vehicle Accident Litigation: Hiring Independent Contractors
Companies are responsible for the actions of employees acting within the scope of their job duties. When companies hire independent contractors, the company’s liability may be more limited. In 2021, West Virginia passed Senate Bill 272, establishing a clear, bright-line test for what constitutes an independent contractor.
Among other requirements, a commercial vehicle company can establish that a trucker is an independent contractor when the contract includes the following provisions:
- The driver is providing services as an independent contractor
- The driver is not treated as an employee of the company
- The company is not providing the contractor with workers’ compensation or unemployment compensation benefits
- The contractor is responsible for paying all taxes
- The contractor is responsible for most supplies and other expenses incurred unless the travel is not local
The bill also allows commercial motor carriers to require safety improvements of their independent contractors without being held liable as the contractor’s employer.
By establishing that the driver is an independent contractor, a company may avoid liability for commercial trucking accident claims. Experienced WV commercial truck accident defense lawyers can help establish a driver is an independent contractor.
Establishing Fault in Commercial Vehicle Accident Litigation
There are times when the truck driver is not the sole or primary cause of an accident. In these cases, the driver or company who employs that driver should not be the sole party held legally responsible for damages. Under WV Code § 55-7-13, each party is responsible for their portion of the damages in accordance with their percentage of fault. As such, when a commercial trucking company can establish that the plaintiff or a third party is responsible for an accident, the damages they are responsible for may be reduced accordingly.
According to WV Code § 55-7-13c, a plaintiff may not recover damages when their fault is greater than that of the defendant or defendants in the action. As such, companies can avoid nuclear verdicts in commercial vehicle accident litigation by establishing another party is at fault or proving the plaintiff’s fault is equal to more than 50 percent.
Damages Sought by Plaintiffs in Nuclear Verdicts
When a plaintiff becomes injured in a trucking accident, he or she can seek damages for pain and suffering and economic losses. Based on the severity of injuries involved in trucking accidents, monetary damages in these cases can be significant.
Economic damages include any financial losses, including past and future, that the plaintiff suffers because of the accident. Financial losses can consist of the following:
- Medical bills
- Therapy costs
- Life plans
- Past and future lost wages
- Loss in earning capacity
In some cases, a court may also award punitive damages.
Working with an experienced WV commercial truck accident defense lawyer is critical for identifying and mitigating damages awards in these cases.
Contact a WV Commercial Truck Accident Defense Lawyer
Should you face a lawsuit that carries a risk of a nuclear verdict, contact an experienced litigation attorney as soon as possible. To discuss whether the risk of nuclear verdicts in commercial vehicle accident litigation may apply to you or defense strategies for your accident case generally, contact The Law Office of M. Andrew Brison, PLLC by calling 304-397-8225 or by completing this convenient online contact form.