In 2014, a seven and 12-year-old were killed when a pickup truck lost control on an icy interstate. They were passengers in the pickup as it crossed the median and spun into the path of an oncoming Werner tractor-trailer that was going 25 mph below the speed limit.
In May, 2018, a jury in Houston, Texas, found Werner liable for the crash and awarded the family of the crash victims $89.7 million. The plaintiff attorneys argued the truck driver should not have been driving under those conditions.
This case was singled out by Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) during his speech at the organization’s annual conference.
Every October, the president of the ATA gives a “state of the industry” address at the Management Conference & Exhibition (MCE). At this year’s event in San Diego, Spear declared the ATA is at war with plaintiff attorneys and nuclear verdicts.
“We’re fed up, and I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of playing defense while trial lawyers buy jets and yachts at the expense of trucking jobs. It’s time to go on the offensive and tell our story to policymakers. It’s time to take the Hill.”
Spear said that ATA will make tort reform a “tier one” priority at the state and federal level.
“We will use our Call on Washington visits and new Independent Contractor Ambassadors Program to set the record straight. We will continue to grow the ATA Litigation Center, and increase the number of law suits,” he proclaimed. The ATA will be asking its members for donations to the Litigation Center to advance its efforts, he said.
“Now let’s get out there and kick some ass,” he said at the conclusion of his remarks.
Before sounding the drumbeat for tort reform, Spear recounted the efforts the ATA made during the past year to steer legislation in a favorable direction for its members, from testifying on Capital Hill to visiting the White House on numerous occasions to meet with officials in the Trump administration.
He noted that ATA has successfully lobbied democrats as well. The ATA was invited by Speaker Pelosi to present at the new House majority retreat earlier this year. The presence of ATA at this closed event was a first.
“I was repeatedly reminded by House Democrat leaders that I was the only Republican in the room, and that ATA was the only invitee to represent a business interest,” he said.
The relationships that ATA has with the House and Senate, and both governing parties, “are real, strategic and impactful,” he continued. “We don’t favor either side over the other and our Truck PAC support confirms it. The right wing and left wing belong to the same bird.”
Spear also extolled the contributions of the trucking industry to the nation’s economy, noting that trucks move 71% of domestic freight.
He reiterated on several occasions that ATA members are “in this together” to “shape and drive the industry’s future” in the areas of safety, infrastructure, trade, technology, workforce development and industry image.
While on stage he also announced the winner of the ATA’ second annual Trucking Cares Foundation Premiere Achievement Award. Mike Ducker, from FedEx, was recognized for his contributions as ATA Treasurer for the past three years and has served on the Board of Directors for the Salvation Army.