Why Jurors May Be Biased Against the Trucking Industry
Posted in Legal Alerts on October 26, 2021
It is not uncommon for jurors to have specific biases against certain industries. A person does not necessarily put aside their personal beliefs when chosen to serve on a jury. Researchers and legal experts have found that jurors can hold negative attitudes towards corporate America, specifically the trucking industry, when serving in a courtroom. This negativity can be manipulated by attorneys to steer jurors towards “nuclear” judgments against trucking companies resulting in potential bankruptcy and/or shutting down those companies. Defense attorneys need to be aware of and know how to deal with potentially biased juries, as many jurors admit to having a built-in bias against truckers. Where does this bias originate and why are these views so common amongst jurors? The following details why jurors may be biased against the trucking industry.
Surveys and Focus Groups Reveal Juror Prejudice
Everyone shares the road with large semi-trucks and 18-wheelers each day. Jury studies and interviews have found that many jurors have a negative bias against the trucking industry after having a close-call experience with a commercial truck while on the road. Other jurors admit to being afraid of large trucks in general. Many attorneys can play on these fears by using graphic visual reenactments of trucking accidents that can cause a juror to have an intense emotional reaction. A recent survey of prospective jurors found:
- 84% agreed with the statement: “In today’s world, juries need to be guardians of the community by forcing companies to change their bad behavior with large damage awards.”
- 75% said they believe tractor-trailers are generally dangerous.
- 33% said they believe tractor-trailer drivers are generally reckless.
- 38% agreed that a billion-dollar jury accident damage award can be “about right,” or even “too low.”
These results show that the common prospective juror may already have an inherent bias against the trucking industry. Surprisingly, that same survey found evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic actually resulted in a temporary “halo effect” on jury attitudes towards truck drivers as people have now acknowledged the trucking industry is essential to consumers when times are tough. This effect may not last long, though, and the process of finding a jury that is free from bias against the trucking industry can still be very difficult.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted a series of focus groups with passenger vehicle and truck drivers from across the county to assess attitudes towards the trucking industry. The focus group found most drivers:
- like truck drivers, but dislike trucks.
- feel intimidated by the size, weight, and speed of trucks.
- believe commercial driver’s license training should be upgraded (longer training, periodic retesting).
- see a need for public education programs on safety when sharing the road with trucks.
- believe large trucking companies have better equipment and better trained drivers than smaller companies.
As in the survey referenced above, the results of this focus group do not bode well for the trucking industry when faced with a lawsuit.
Some jurors see more semi-trucks on the road and assume there is a lack of regulation. Many jurors want greater regulations to ensure truck drivers are able to safely share the roads with passenger vehicles. These jurors do not know that there are already comprehensive regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that all trucking companies and drivers must follow to legally be able to drive semi-trucks and haul cargo in the United States.
Another source of negative bias towards the trucking industry is the current portrayal of large trucks in the media. Media reports about trucking accidents are often sensationalized and almost always place the truck driver and their large vehicle in the spotlight. Prospective jurors are constantly seeing commercials asking accident victims to contact law offices for big payouts while rarely, if ever, seeing a defense commercial for the other party involved. The trucking industry is portrayed as the “big bad villain” in the media instead of being shown as a vital network of cargo transportation that keeps the economy moving forward.
Because jurors are often biased against large commercial companies, including trucking companies, involved in accidents, the legal realm is seeing an increase in large jury awards for crashes. Statistics reported by the American Transportation Research Institute show that from 2010 to 2018, when considering verdicts of over $1 million, the average verdict size increased by 1,000%, rising from $2.3 million to $22.3 million. Awards that surpass $10 million are considered “nuclear verdicts” by the insurance industry and they are becoming more common each year. These types of jury awards can kill a trucking business. The trucking industry is feeling the effects of jurors’ negative bias when it comes to high-profile cases that result in massive verdicts. Prudent jury selection will be essential to any and all truck drivers and companies who are being taken to court over an accident, which is why transportation companies must choose experienced legal counsel to protect their interests both in and out of court.