August 2021

Truck accident pirates keel-hauled in court

Fleet and owner operators, as well as the American Trucking Association and the rest of us who are not grifting leeches on society got some good news at the start of August. A federal judge sentenced Anthony Robinson and his wife Audrey Harris to 48 months in prison for their participation in a fraud scheme that resulted in $4.7 million in court settlements awarded to Robinson, Harris and three other participants in a staged 2015 truck “accident.”

It's a little secret just the Robinson's affair

Apparently, the scheme was good for the Robinson’s marriage, their daughter and neighbors. Among the three participants in the staged 2015 crash were Robinson's daughter, Keishira, a neighbor, Frank Schaffer and the “slammer” who drove the crash vehicle into the truck. According to a report in Transport Topics, the truck was owned by C.R. England Inc.

Operation sideswipe gets sideswiped

All co-conspirators have been jointly assessed more than $5 million in restitution. The restitution amount includes the total settlement paid by C.R. England and its excess insurer, as well as for attorneys’ fees incurred in the course of defending against the fraudulent civil lawsuit stemming from the staged accident. Robinson’s daughter has pleaded guilty to the accident but is awaiting sentencing. Schaffer got 30 months.

In July, Danny Patrick Keating Jr. became the first of the crooked attorneys involved to plead guilty in the sweeping “Operation sideswipe” conspiracy. The ongoing investigation, conducted by the FBI, Louisiana State Police, and the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission is expected to yield fresh indictments soon.

Deep pockets, reptiles and easy pickings

Cristina Commendatore, Fleet Owner editor recently noted that over the last ten years or so, nuclear verdicts—which often exceed $10 million—have created storm warnings over commercial trucking. Consequences of these verdicts, she says, where the evidence doesn’t support the huge monetary sums awarded, include skyrocketing insurance premiums and business failures.

The trucking industry, declares Commendatore, has had enough and is fighting back against these verdicts and the reptile theory practitioners who win them. Using reptile theory, Fleet Owner explains, a plaintiff’s attorney will attack the reputation of the trucking company rather than focus on the facts and circumstances of the accident itself, inciting jury emotion.

Bluewire launched to denuclearize the zone

After Chris Spear, ATA’s President declared a war on nuclear verdicts during association’s fall meeting in 2019, Steve Bryan, the founder of data analytics software provider Vigillo, recognized the industry was under huge pressure to respond. After years helping commercial trucking companies manage federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability programs, Bryan bent his company’s tech’s to the task and find a way to help defuse the problem of nuclear verdicts.

In May, Bryan and his partners launched Bluewire, to deliver an artificial intelligence (AI) based data analytics platform which provides carriers and their insurance providers with data to mitigate the root causes of run-away juries and verdicts. “I felt it was getting worse and escalating,” Bryan told Fleet Owner and “as a software and data guy, that got me thinking whether there was something we could do by analyzing data and deploying a toolset of ‘weapons’ to wage that war.”

Hacking the hackers

Bryan compared plaintiffs’ attorneys in the trucking world to hackers using “attack vectors” to discover the intimate details of a trucking company’s business operations. When planning an attack on the trucking industry, plaintiffs’ attorneys will typically focus on gaps in safety like driver hours of service (HOS) violations, camera and advanced technology usage, company recruiting messages, and even messages between dispatchers and drivers.

Using AI and text-mining technologies Bluewire measures, reports on, and scores the reputation of individual motor carriers. This helps set the stage for a vigorous, fact based defense. Bluewire also helps company’s manage reputation, modelling concepts and best practices to help monitor the safety systems, data silos, and insurance claims that exist throughout the trucking industry.

Law is evolving in Texas

According to the Fleet Owner report, the Texas trucking industry succeeded in getting House Bill 19 passed to curb the trend of lawsuit abuse in the state. Among other provisions, HB 19 ensures juries are presented with evidence that is directly relevant to causation and injuries in a highway accident and ensures the case is focused on the events at issue rather than on extraneous allegations outside the scope of the accident. That is a super important distinction.

Meanwhile, Montana, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Missouri have joined Texas in becoming the latest state in recent months to pass lawsuit abuse reforms. HB 19 in Texas takes effect in September and once in effect, will provide motor carriers a timeframe to file motions seeking a two-phased bifurcated trial. The first phase determines the driver’s liability and the amount of compensatory damages and the second phase determines the motor carrier’s direct liability for claims for things including alleged negligent hiring or training or the amount of exemplary damages.

Keep your eye and operations on the path to safety

Current events in trucking safety and liability ought to be slightly gratifying to operators and the industry because the manipulation has been so blatant as to bugger the imagination. There had to be reforms – the industry can no longer sustain the drain financially or fiscally any longer. When the key to ongoing operations is being able to find affordable truck and transportation insurance, it’s about time these pirates were keel-hauled and set ashore for good.

Bob Tales