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Truck attorney tip 5: Stopping the defense from sweeping negligent acts under the rug

Written by Steve Gursten Posted August 15th, 2014

Don’t be afraid to ask the public policy questions about truck safety in the state where your wreck occurred

Sweep under the rug

Welcome again to the Truck Accident Attorney Roundtable blog series addressing one of the most common defense tactics that lawyers face: What to do when the lawyer from the trucking company (or the insurance company of the trucking company more accurately) admits negligence as a tactic to exclude damning evidence of the motor carrier company for trial.

Generally, the trucking company will make five arguments that evidence of direct negligence of the company should not be allowed in at trial. Although the trucking company sometimes finds success with this,  the reality is that the defense should not be allowed to sweep evidence of negligence under the rug to minimize a jury verdict, for a number of important reasons.

We’ve previously shared several tips:

1. Looking at the law of the jurisdiction (many states  allow a direct negligence claim against the company in addition to a negligence cause of action against the truck driver);

2. Comparative negligence  statutes, which require a jury to allocate  all parties’ comparative negligence;

3. The Restatement of Agency which supports two concurrent claims of negligence; and

4. The Restatement of Torts supports two independent claims against the truck driver and the trucking company.

Today, here’s the most  important reason why defense lawyers should not be allowed to do this:

There is a strong public policy interest in maintaining an independent claim of negligence against the trucking company. To allow defense lawyers to admit negligence to keep this evidence out of trial makes our highways much more dangerous.

Traffic fatalities and the destructive force of preventable semi-truck accidents are huge problems in this country. Thousands of people are killed every year, and many more are seriously hurt. Some states have a higher percentage of unsafe motor carrier operations than others, which you can investigate here.

States like Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, West Virginia, New Mexico and Louisiana are the most dangerous states in the country when it comes to serious semi-truck accidents killing and injuring people on the public roadways.

Nor is this a new idea. States have recognized this for decades, and have also recognized the strong public policy of minimizing carnage and death on our roads and highways.  For example, there are numerous decisions in Michigan from the state Supreme Court that explicitly state deaths on the highway are one of [the state’s] most pressing social problems. (See 358 Mich. 398).

Decisions like this from your state jurisdiction can be extremely helpful in reminding a trial court judge why public policy is not a throw-away argument that is added at the end of a motion. But rather that your state has a compelling public policy reason to stop smart defense lawyers from hiding evidence of dangerous trucking companies from juries. The only way to make our roads and truck companies more safe is for these dangerous motor carriers to be held accountable for their negligent acts, not to immunize themselves by admitting negligence on the eve of a jury trial to minimize their accountability as a legal tactic.

If we do not hold bad trucking companies fully accountable for violating state and federal laws and safety regulations that are designed to keep the public safe, then how will the safety culture ever change?

The answer is simple: It won’t.

 – Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Evil Erin

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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