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Keeping the ‘big, bad trucking company’ off the verdict slip


Demonizing the trucking company is a standard tactic of billboard advertisers who sue our industry. They seek to arouse the passion and prejudice against what they paint as the “big, bad trucking company.”

One of the best ways to avoid and diffuse this is to keep your company off the verdict slip. The result presents the jury with a choice between the plaintiff and your driver, not an impersonal, unjustly vilified company.

In a recent trial, we were again able to keep the trucking company off the verdict slip by a pretrial motion. The motion resulted in the dismissal of the trucking company from any claim of its negligence, limiting its exposure to vicarious liability as the employer of the driver.

While the company was legally liable to pay the damages found against the driver, this eliminated any direct claims against the company. Further, it took the company off the verdict slip.

Virtually every complaint today in a trucking case is loaded with numerous claims against the trucking company alleging its independent negligence in addition to responsibility for the driver’s negligence. These claims include negligent hiring, training, and supervision by the trucking company.

These claims, if allowed to proceed to trial, open the door for presentation of evidence of alleged improper actions of the trucking company. The prejudice resulting from this evidence is inflamed by the all-too available testimony by a hired-gun so-called “trucking industry expert” hired by plaintiffs. The result is to vilify the trucking company in the eyes of the jury.

In the recent case, we filed a motion prior to trial to eliminate these claims. There is a body of law that provides that where the company admits that the driver was its employee (which we did) and there is not a claim for punitive damages (which there was not), then the claims against the trucking company should be dismissed.

The rationale is that this evidence is unduly prejudicial to the company at trial. It may well result in a skewed verdict for improper reasons.

The ultimate argument is that these claims against the corporation add nothing to the case and will only serve to potentially confuse the jury. Think about it—if the driver is not at fault, we don’t owe any damages.

If the driver is at fault, we owe the damages suffered by the plaintiff. The amount of those damages is not increased by any independent negligence of the trucking company.

In this trial, the impact of such a motion was readily apparent. Throughout the trial, plaintiff’s counsel referred to me, not by name, but only as “the trucking company lawyer”. His tactic was to attempt to put the focus on the “trucking company” and engender jury prejudice against an impersonal corporation that was a “trucking company.”

In closing, I was able to expose the tactic for what it was—an attempt to bias the jury against the trucking company. Further, I was able to point out to the jury that they were not going to even see the “trucking company” on the verdict slip. All of this was the product of the timely and successful motion we filed.

The verdict? The jury returned a verdict $100,000 less than our pretrial offer and $2 million dollars less than plaintiff’s last demand. This motion, by itself, did not produce this result. But it sure helped.

 


Doug Marcello

Doug Marcello

Doug Marcello is a transportation attorney who has earned his CDL. His law practices focuses upon serving the trucking industry. Based in Central Pennsylvania, he has represented trucking companies in cases throughout the US, having been specially admitted in 35 states. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and driver safety meetings. He has also written numerous articles concerning issues confronting the industry and has produced several DVDs relating to accident response and aggressive defense of claims.
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