The 4 Most Shocking Truck Accident Scams We’ve Seen
The biggest mistake that commercial truck accident victims make is assuming that trucking companies and their insurers will make a good faith effort to resolve a dispute, absent pressure to do so. The law places the burden on victims to prove allegations of wrong-doing. This means that if a victim can't do that, a trucking company is well within its rights to sit on its hands and ignore victims.
Making victims hold them accountable is the default position of most trucking companies. Most victims find themselves unprepared for the best-case scenario, that trucking company will exhaust every legal safeguard available to them to avoid responsibility for the crashes their drivers cause. Of course, this raises a question, what's the worst-case scenario for victims? From a victim's perspective, the worst possible outcome is that a trucking company cheats the victim.
To be fair, I'm not saying that every trucking company cheats accident victims. I'm not even saying the majority do. But what follows are the four worst examples of dirty (but legal) tactics and outright cheating I've seen in my four decades of litigating commercial truck accident cases.
#4 — Blame it on the Company on the Other Side of World
I read about this case a couple years ago, but it perfectly illustrates the lengths trucking company defense attorneys will go in order for their client to avoid responsibility. Here's what happened.
Near San Antonio, a motorist's tire went flat while driving on an interstate. The driver did what any of us would do and pulled over to the shoulder of the road to change the tire. While changing the tire, an 18-wheeler lost control, careened onto the shoulder, and crashed into the man and his vehicle, killing him instantly. As far as truck accident fact patterns go, I've rarely read about one where the truck driver was as obviously 100% to blame for killing someone as was the case in this crash.
The deceased man's family retained a law firm, and the matter ended up going to court. Here's where things became interesting. The trucking company defense attorneys knew that based on the facts of the case, if they couldn't find someone else to pin the blame on, they were surely going to lose. They concocted a theory that their driver lost control because of a part failure in the truck. Further, the particular part that failed was manufactured by a company that had no presence or connection to the United States. This meant that the company didn't bother to show up in court and defend itself against any of the trucking company's allegations, because even if the court ruled against the manufacturer, it couldn't take any action against them.
The victim's family made their case that the truck accident killed their loved, while the defense attorneys pointed the finger at foreign manufacturer. When the jury returned a verdict, the victim was blameless. The problem was that the jury put 100% of the blame on the foreign manufacturer. This meant that the manufacturer, not the trucking company was on the hook for the family's losses. It also meant they had no way to hold that company accountable, because they had no connection to this country. The only thing the family won for their trouble was a worthless judgment that could not be enforced.
The trucking company got away scot-free. I was absolutely shocked when I read about this case. I would rank it higher on my list, but for the fact that the defense attorneys followed the rules and convinced a jury that their pie-in-the-sky theory was correct.
#3 - A Major Trucking Company Tricks a Man in a Hospital Bed into Signing Away His Rights
I read about this next case, out of Tennessee, involving one of the biggest trucking companies in the United States. It began when one of the company's drivers caused a wreck, which seriously injured another motorist. Reading the facts of the case, it's clear that the company's driver was 100% to blame for the crash. Yet the company appeared to escape consequences for their employee's dangerous behavior for a mere $10,000, an amount that didn't even cover the victim's hospital stay.
Shortly after the crash, a representative of the company visited the injured man in the hospital. At the time of the visit, the victim could barely move and was under the influence of painkillers, which doctors prescribed so that they could numb the man enough to allow him to sleep. The company's agent told the victim just how bad everyone in the company felt about the injured man's situation. He told them that everyone felt so bad that he had a $10,000 check, just so the family wouldn't feel financial pressure, during such a trying time. In short, the agent presented himself to the victim as a lifeline in a desperate time.
The victim and his wife appreciated the gesture, but they raised concerns that $10,000 wouldn't begin to cover their hospital bills, let alone other losses they sustained in the crash. The agent assured the couple that the $10,000 was just something to help them out, and the company would be more than happy to settle up their total losses later. This seemed to put the couple at ease, and with his wife's help, the man signed a document, which he believed was a receipt that he accepted the $10,000.
Shortly after his release from the hospital, the victim reached out to the trucking company to resolve the outstanding claim. When he finally got through to the company's claims adjuster, she told him that the company didn't normally process claims after the dispute was settled. This struck the man as odd, since he never settled the matter. The victim told the adjuster about his conversation with the company representative at the hospital. The claims adjuster told him to go ahead and submit his claim, then she would see what she could do.
A month later, the victim received a notice in the mail, informing him that his claim was denied, because the matter was already settled. At this point the victim reached out to an attorney in Tennessee. The attorney looked into the matter and had to tell his client that the "receipt" he signed wasn't actually a receipt, but a document releasing the trucking company from all liability.
Before he could even pursue a claim, the victim and his attorney ended up spending the next 5 years in court arguing that the release was not valid. That whole time, the trucking company fought to legally bind the man to the release he signed. At the end of 5 years, a court ruled that the agreement was invalid, and that the man could pursue his case against the trucking company.
From my perspective, the worst part of this whole case wasn't just that the trucking company tricked a victim stuck in a hospital bed, it's that they had to know that there was a very good chance a court wouldn't recognize the waiver. They took a chance that they could trick the victim, then put him through legal hell on the off chance their scheme might work. Perhaps the trucking company can complain that they didn't know what they did wasn't legal, but only a fool would believe that they didn't know it was wrong.
#2 — A Defense Attorney (Legally) Abuses a Victim
I learned about this event from an attorney who left a defense firm to come work for my firm. I asked her why she wanted to go from defending trucking companies to litigating against them. This was the story she told me.
The last straw for her was a case involving a motorcyclist who was struck by a delivery truck, owned by a major company. The delivery truck failed to yield the right of way, turning into the motorcyclist's path. The truck driver didn't initially stop, instead he drove on after the collision, dragging the biker 100 yards further down the asphalt. The motorcycle rider miraculously survived being dragged under the delivery truck, but suffered catastrophic injuries to a very intimate part of his body.
The attorney who I eventually hired worked on the case, but was not in charge of the defense. She recalled that after they first took the motorcyclists sworn testimony, the defense attorneys on the team went out for dinner. At dinner, the consensus was that they had nothing to work with. In fact, they were so worried about what a jury might thing of the victim's testimony that they believed the only thing to do was see what it would take to keep the case from every seeing the inside of a courtroom. The lead defense attorney disagreed. He instructed the other members of the team to ask to the judge in the case to allow them to take more sworn testimony from the victim. The lead attorney thought he saw something during their first session that he could use, if they got another chance to question the man.
At the second interview, the attorney's strategy became apparent. He noticed from the previous deposition that every time the victim's injuries were brought up, the victim reacted subtly, but clearly in a way that showed how painful it was for him to discuss his very intimate injury. The victim physically shook every time someone discussed his injury. The lead defense attorney employed his observation, going out of his way to bring up the injury at every turn during the second round of testimony. By the end of the deposition, the victim, visibly shaken and in tears, instructed his attorney to resolve the case as quickly as possible, regardless of how bad the trucking company's terms were. His only goal was to never have to discuss his injury again.
The case wrapped up, with the trucking company admitting far less than they should have, the defense went out to celebrate, and the attorney I eventually hired decided that she needed to make her living another way. As heinous whole story is, the worst part is that it was perfectly legal. The defense attorney found a legal way to torture a victim, all in the name of allowing a trucking company to avoid the full consequences of its actions. After hearing this story, I told my new hire that I understood why she would never want to be part of something like that again.
#1 - The Case of the Stolen Headlights
While the consequences for the victim did not end up being severe as the cases I've previously discussed, this next case is boldest scam, because the trucking company's defense team tried to tamper with evidence to make their case.
This was a case that my firm handled. We were hired by the family of a man who died one night after crashing his pickup into the side of a truck's trailer. It was obvious that the truck ran a stop sign and turned into the victim's path, leaving him no time to react. At the time of the collision, the commercial truck's trailer blocked the entire roadway.
Based on the facts of the case, it didn't look like the defense attorney had anything to work with. That's why my team was surprised when their filings with the court argued that their driver was not to blame for the crash, because the victim was driving at night without his headlights on. Toxicology and witnesses confirmed that the victim had no drugs or alcohol in his system, and it is laughable to suggest that a sober person was driving without using their headlights.
I assembled a team to get to the bottom of the trucking company's defense claims. Our first stop was the junkyard, where the deceased man's pickup ended up after the crash. Since the pickup crashed head-on, into the commercial truck's trailer, we expected that, at worst, the pickup's headlights were destroyed in the collision. When we arrived at the vehicle, the front-end damage was not as bad as we expected. The front of the pickup looked like it went under the trailer, with the passenger cab taking the brunt of the impact. One thing was out of place: the entire headlight assembly was completely missing. It's one thing for a person to forget to turn on their headlights, but something else for a vehicle to not even have headlights.
We spoke with the junkyard's management and he provided us with the logbook. A name on the list immediately jumped out at us. A couple of days before our visit, a representative of the defense team was at the junkyard. The manager allowed us to view the junkyard security footage, which clearly showed the representative walking into the junkyard empty-handed, then leaving with something that was about the size of two headlight assemblies, tucked under his arm. The representative obviously removed the entire headlight assembly, just before the defense team claimed that our client's loved one caused his crash by driving without headlights.
Based on the security footage, it was obvious that a representative for the defense team tampered with the evidence in this case to support their new theory. This is flat-out illegal and the defense team was caught red-handed. Not wanting to defend their associate's actions before a judge, the defense attorneys waived the white flag, and the matter was quickly resolved in my client's favor.
Looking back, I think about how much of a problem it would have been for my clients had my team not caught the evidence tampering. It could have denied an innocent man's family justice in the matter. The fact that someone crossed a line into illegal behavior is why I believe this to be the most shocking truck company scam that I've seen in my career.
What Do Truck Accident Victims Need to Be Aware of Scams?
With the exception of the last scam, each and every scam I discussed involves victims who were victimized again when they sought to resolve their dispute. That's something I never lose sight of when discussing each of these scams. They're not just an attorney's war stories or cautionary tales, but real-world examples of people getting hurt.
In fairness to trucking company defense attorneys, many of them resort to aggressive tactics because there are a lot of scammers out there, and trucking companies make tempting targets. Having been burned in the past, these companies and their attorneys employ aggressive tactics to the point that they act as if even honest truck accident victims are trying to cheat them. On its own, this behavior makes resolving even the most truck accident dispute difficult for victims.
Once most trucking companies adopted scorched-earth legal strategies to ferret out potential scammers, their attorneys had those skills in their tool-bag. It was only a matter of time until they deployed those skills against legitimate victims, because it bolsters a defense attorney's reputation to win "unwinnable" cases. You can see this in that 3 of the 4 scams I mentioned didn't even involve illegal behavior, just defense attorneys pushing up to the boundary of what the law and decency allow.
Truck accident victims only get one shot at successfully resolving their dispute. While it would be nice to be able to assume that every trucking company defense attorney was interested in a reasonable resolution to the dispute, some will employ any means necessary to win. From a victim's perspective, the worst part is that you can't know which type of defense attorney you're up against. In such cases, it only makes sense to take every precaution to prevent being the victim of a scam. At worst, those precautions are unnecessary, while there's a chance they prevent your dispute from ending up on a list of trucking accident scams.