Arkansas Trucking Association

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Up Front- The Chance for Change

SHANNON NEWTON 2Shannon Newton
President, ATA

I am not much of a come-what-may person. Laissez faire is not part of my vocabulary, and not because I don’t speak French. It’s not part of my vocabulary because I’m just not the type of person who is comfortable when things are out of my control.  I prefer not to leave things to chance.

And yet, there are things in life you can’t control. I don’t like it, but I accept it. As often as tragedy can be prevented, it can’t.

In May, a jury in Houston, Tex., awarded a nearly $90 million judgment against Werner Enterprises after a pickup truck travelling I-20 lost control in freezing rain conditions, left the lane, crossed through the median and into the path of a Werner truck, travelling the opposite direction.

A young boy lost his life, and others suffered serious, life-altering injuries. Under any circumstance, that is heartbreaking. 

The truck driver showed up for work, followed his training, slowed his truck down considerably below the speed limit, and despite all of that, tragedy still struck on that winter afternoon.  If any one out of innumerable factors had been different, maybe this accident wouldn’t have occurred.

In the aftermath, though, a jury found that Werner was primarily to blame for the incident.  They failed to instruct him to stop, avoid the treacherous weather conditions, or should not have assigned the less experienced driver to the expedited load in the first place.  At its core, a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time led to an $89.6 million damage award – a staggering nuclear verdict.

In what world do the basic facts of this case support punitive treatment of the carrier whose truck was struck by a passenger vehicle that lost control and crossed the median?  To what standard should a responsible business manage risk, minimize chance, yet continue to operate?

Nuclear verdicts like this don’t just negatively impact those parties to the suit.  The effects ripple throughout the industry.  The few insurers who currently write trucking policies are reminded that even when circumstances are beyond a driver’s control, an unfortunate series of events could cost millions. And to manage this reality, they are raising rates at an unprecedented pace on all risks or walking away from insuring trucking entirely.  In one way or the other, if you’re running a trucking company, you’re paying for this verdict.

In November, Arkansas voters will have the opportunity to send a clear message to trial attorneys seeking to get rich on the backs of the industry that delivers America’s freight.  Limiting contingency fees for attorneys and setting reasonable caps on noneconomic damages will do our part to dissuade them from seeking to exploit tragedy at the expense of hardworking Arkansans.

The passage of Issue 1 won’t prevent tragedy.  It won’t preclude a legitimate lawsuit from happening or a wrong being made right. But, it will discourage attorneys from spinning out the entire trucking industry.

I accept there are things that cannot be controlled.  But our efforts in Arkansas on tort reform can impact to what degree we leave things to chance.

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Arkansas Trucking Association
PO Box 3476 (72203)
1401 West Capitol Ave.
Suite 185
Little Rock, AR 72201

(501) 372-3462 | Phone
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Our Mission

  • PROTECT the collective interests of trucking companies in the political and regulatory arenas.
  • PROMOTE the dynamics of trucking so that people have a better understanding of the link between America's primary freight delivery system and the standard of living they enjoy.
  • SERVE our members to help them to grow their business and their profits
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