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Legal issuesNewsTrucking

Should dogs ride shotgun? Transportation lawyer Cassandra Gaines speaks on the pet debate

Dogs and other small pets can provide comfort and companionship for long-haul drivers. But as transportation lawyer Cassandra Gaines explains, a cat or dog riding shotgun may bring the baggage of a costly lawsuit if a roadway accident occurs. 

Gaines discussed with FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller on the FreightWavesTV show “Fuller Speed Ahead” the safety risks involved with in-cab pets and how transportation companies can protect themselves from multimillion-dollar jury settlements.

“Plaintiff attorneys like to hear that a dog is in the cab because they can say that dog was distracting even if it wasn’t distracting,” Gaines said. “It’s very hard to disprove unless you had an inward-facing camera showing everything, which most truck drivers don’t have. It’s hard to argue that it wasn’t distracting.”

Gaines recalled representing a driver who experienced an accident on a snowy road. Despite the fact that other trucks were involved in accidents due to the road’s icy conditions, the plaintiff’s attorney targeted this specific driver because he had a dog with him and claimed that the driver could have pressed the brakes sooner to avoid the accident if the animal had not been in the tractor cab.

“Maybe he would’ve, but just the argument alone adds in a whole new factor,” Gaines said. “Because they don’t usually side with trucking companies, jurors tend to believe that the dog was distracting.”

Gaines doesn’t necessarily believe trucking companies should ban all pets but she does suggest they review their pet policies. She said possible solutions could include allowing only small dogs or requiring all dogs to be trained before hitting the road. Keeping them separated from the driver’s immediate space while the vehicle is in motion also could be a viable option to prevent driver distractions, according to Gaines.

“You are driving a very difficult, very heavy and very dangerous vehicle,” Gaines said. “Safety comes first — not our personal opinions, how we feel or money.”

The surest way to protect oneself from liability is to install both outward- and inward-facing cameras in each truck, Gaines said. She acknowledged that some drivers believe cameras violate their privacy, but she said feeling uncomfortable is a fair tradeoff for certainty that these cameras hold the key to exonerating them from any wrongdoing. 

She said her experience with focus groups has shown many jurors are predisposed to view truck drivers unfavorably. Even when she would present a convincing defense of the driver, some mock jurors in pretrial focus groups would voice their personal stories of bad encounters with trucks on the road as reasons to vote for a guilty verdict. 

“The solution is that we need to put safety first, settle these cases quicker and understand that people are angry at trucking companies,” Gaines said. “They’re the ones deciding the hundreds of millions of dollars [in settlements]; it’s not the plaintiff attorneys or anybody else.”

She continued, “If you let that anger continue to fuse and snowball, you’ll get those big jury verdicts.” 

Fuller described these court rulings as “nuclear verdicts” as they often destroy the companies involved. Wrongful death lawsuits against trucking companies have steadily risen to eight- or nine-figure payouts.

Gaines noted that trucking companies are finding that their vehicle liability insurance is nowhere near enough to satisfy hungry plaintiff attorneys. She said $1 million is the typical amount of coverage offered for a commercial truck and what accident victims get if a truck driver is found liable.

Plaintiff attorneys now are following the money trail all the way to brokers and shippers, as reported earlier by FreightWaves. Gaines explained that brokers are easy to target because of their hefty insurance coverage. The most common accusations thrown at brokers, she said, are vicarious liability and negligent selection of carrier.

Gaines advised brokers let the drivers do their jobs in peace — don’t pressure them to go faster or drive in bad conditions. Brokers also should vet carriers by service issues not safety, she said.

“I want you to vet carriers regarding service,” Gaines said. “Look for FreightGuard reports and double brokering. If you want to look at safety, only look at third-party companies that will give you a score.”

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Jack Glenn

Jack Glenn is an Editorial Associate for FreightWaves and lives in Chattanooga, TN. He is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia Terry College of Business where he earned a degree in Marketing.

4 Comments

  1. Wow! What a cruel world we live in! An argument one can not prove nor disprove. I remember once I could Have probably pressed the breaks sooner; but I was reacting to a company wide message on our companies Qualcomm. Companies should probably review their driver stock messaging. Ie: questing one well on duty driving. Phone calls. Sending driving tips. How sad this World has truly become. Don’t gain the world and loose your soul; wisdom is better than silver or gold. An industry needed by all appreciated by few. Be careful what we wish for.

  2. I’m waiting for the lawsuit against mirrors .

    Apparently checking your mirrors distracts you from looking up ahead . All it takes is a fraction of a second , and BAM ! some clown just cut in front of you and slammed the brakes . But supposedly you’re responsible .

    This world and those who run it lack a good dose of intelligence . Sure they may be well educated , but most are beyond stupid . We still haven’t found a cure for that epidemic “dis-ease” .

    Now distraction is about dogs , then it’s smoking , eating , drinking , perhaps even winking . Where does this insanity stop ???

    In the good old days we could communicate with each other while holding a CB microphone . Today it would be considered to be a distraction .

    The system has went overboard and became beyond ludicrous in the process .

    My question to all truck drivers is , how long are we going to put up with this sort of totalitarian ignorant BS ?

    Take a STAND . Just keep in mind either direction YOU choose to take , you still made a decision . And not taking a stand is still taking one , though by not taking one , it’s one that may go against your best interest . Therefore , make your choice count , at least for the next generations to come . You’re damned if you do , and you’re damned if you don’t . So you might as well “do” .

    And let’s show these so called educated people that enough is enough and we can do a much better job of taking care of our own while being safe and responsible .

    THEY have failed us and every day that goes by serves as proof . Just look at how they “regulated” those who drive cars ! If that doesn’t confirm that these so called “educated regulators” can’t tell their left foot from their right one , then YOU are a lost cause my friends . These people don’t have a freaking clue as to what needs to be done . NOT A CLUE !

    In my humble opinion …………

  3. Furthermore, if we can create our “Truck Driver Alliance” I guarantee we’ll find a way to finance our own CMV PRIVATE highways . A little like Rail corporations have done with railways , but a heck of a lot better .

    We don’t need those political “educated” buffoons to regulate our industry . We’ve seen what they’ve done so far and it’s quite a disgrace . Let them play with their own highways and 2 & 4 wheelers , now even 3 wheelers .

    We’ll take care of our own and show them how things should be done . Then we’ll compare . And once we prove that we know better , then we’ll elect one of our own to fill a position as transport minister . They want PR , we’ll give them that too .

    Believe me , the competition to fill such a position isn’t difficult to beat . We’ll be “role models” for the public to follow . And we’ll even be willing to teach them .

    In my humble opinion ………..

  4. Furthermore, if we can create our “Truck Driver Alliance” I guarantee we’ll find a way to finance our own CMV PRIVATE highways . A little like Rail corporations have done with railways , but a heck of a lot better .

    We don’t need those political “educated” buffoons to regulate our industry . We’ve seen what they’ve done so far and it’s quite a disgrace .

    We’ll take care of our own and show them how things should be done . Then we’ll compare . And once we prove that we know better , then we’ll elect one of our own to fill a position as transport minister . They want PR , we’ll give them that too .

    Believe me , the competition to fill such a position isn’t difficult to beat . We’ll be “role models” for the public to follow . And we’ll even be willing to teach them .

    In my humble opinion ………..

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