Roses & Razzberries – December 2020/January 2021
ROSES to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for doing something it has done all too rarely in its 21-year history: listened to truck drivers. From the creation of the new hours-of-service rules that went into effect earlier this year to the listening session on broker transparency in October and the formation of the new commercial motor vehicle driver panel, the agency has made great strides over the last couple of years in listening to the people most affected by its regulations.
While there is still some distance to go – let’s face it, having someone with some actual driving experience at the administrative level would be nice – the fact that the agency has come this far deserves to be recognized.
RAZZBERRIES to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for overturning the convictions of three former Pilot Flying J executives who orchestrated an elaborate fraud scheme that cheated drivers out of fuel card rebates. The ruling hinged on the prosecution’s use of secret recordings of the company’s then president using racist and misogynistic language at a corporate retreat. Lawyers for former Pilot President Mark Hazelwood argued that the recordings were not directly related to the charges and could unfairly prejudice the jury against him. The judges – by a vote of 2-1 – agreed and overturned the convictions against Hazelwood and two other executives, saying they violated the rules of evidence.
RAZZBERRIES, too, to the prosecution for trying to skirt the rules.
It’s like having a touchdown pass reversed because of a holding call in the backfield. It’s a stupid mistake that didn’t need to happen and cost your team the game.
RAZZBERRIES to UPS for asking to be exempt from the entry-level driver training rules that pretty much everyone else in the industry seems to think are a pretty good idea. In a request to the FMCSA earlier this year, the shipping giant said that its existing process of preparing driver trainers “exceeds any skill set gained merely by operating a tractor-trailer for two years.” Merely. I guess years of actual, on-the-road experience don’t add up to much at the eight-week driver training school run by UPS. The company also said it had to hire 100 candidates to get 50 trainers across the U.S. Of those, it was only able to retain 38. Um, call us crazy, but that sounds more like a problem with the UPS training program than one with the rules designed to get safer drivers out there on the road.
RAZZBERRIES to the growing trend toward so-called “nuclear verdicts” against trucking companies. Earlier this year, a jury for a state court in Florida ordered a whopping $412 million verdict against a trucking company involved in a nonfatal crash. And in Texas, an appeals court reduced a historic initial verdict of more than $100 million against another trucking company because it found the amount excessive. We understand the urge to make companies pay for a perceived injustice, but – unless the company has a history of bad behavior – utterly destroying that company isn’t the answer. More concerning is the precedent these verdicts could be setting, emboldening the already overzealous personal injury industry to seek even more ludicrous amounts of money. Trust us, we’ve seen their TV ads and billboards.
Those people don’t need any more encouragement than they’ve already got.
RAZZBERRIES to Prime Inc. – or the person working for Prime who was responsible for sending out a message calling the notice of a settlement in a class action lawsuit against the company a fraud and a phishing scam. The message went out shortly after drivers received notification of a settlement in a wage lawsuit and told them to visit a website to see if they qualified for part of that settlement. Prime’s subsequent message created confusion and prompted lawyers for the plaintiffs to seek an emergency motion to have it retracted and force the company to issue an apology. Prime reportedly issued a retraction later that same day, but by then the damage was done. The company blamed the confusion on a Prime employee who, “acting in good faith, mistakenly suspected the email regarding the settlement was a phishing scam.” We get mistakes, but as Judge Patti B. Saris said during a hearing in October, “I don’t know what the supervisor was thinking. You’d think that he would have checked with someone.” Exactly. LL
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