Research by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) provides more evidence supporting what those in the trenches defending the trucking industry have known for years -- that large "nuclear" verdicts (verdicts in excess of $10 million) against truck fleets are increasing dramatically in both frequency and size of awards.

The ATRI study, Understanding the Impact of Nuclear Verdicts on the Trucking Industry, was released on June 23, 2020. The report is based partially on a new trucking litigation database with information on 600 cases between 2006 and 2019. In addition to case analysis, ATRI surveyed and interviewed dozens of defense and plaintiff attorneys as well as insurance and motor carrier experts, and generated a qualitative analysis for why the litigation landscape has changed, recommendations for modifying pretrial preparations, litigation strategies and mediation approaches, and how large verdict awards impact both safety and insurance.

From 2012 to 2019, the number of cases with verdicts over $1 million increased to 265 cases, an increase of 335%, according to the research. The number of verdicts between $1 million and $2 million increased by 300% in the same period.

ATRI identified certain factors that correlated with larger verdict sizes, including whether children were involved in a crash (a 1,587% increase when a child is introduced in the equation). Spinal cord injuries more than doubled average jury awards, raising them to slightly less than $3.5 million. In rear-end crashes, the plaintiffs win 89% of cases. Rear-end crashes that occur in work zones generate the highest award among rear-end crashes, with an average award of $7.25 million.

Noteworthy, federal lawmakers are currently considering an increase to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration required minimum insurance coverage requirement of $750,000 to $2 million.