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14 > One puzzle piece at a time:<br />

Robert Morris and ‘Fiona’<br />

increase autism awareness<br />

with eye-catching custompainted<br />

inspirational truck<br />

10 > On Trucking<br />

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ATRI study shows increase in ‘nuclear<br />

verdicts’ while higher insurance<br />

premiums are included in INVEST Act<br />

By Cliff Abbott<br />

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic drove freight rates<br />

to unprofitable levels for most carriers, truckers were<br />

stressed by the rising cost of insurance.<br />

A recent study by the American Transportation Research Institute<br />

(ATRI), released June 23, points to increasing amounts awarded<br />

by juries in trucking-litigation cases as a cause of rising rates.<br />

After studying detailed information about 600 cases between 2006<br />

and 2019, the organization determined that jury verdict awards<br />

A recent study by the American Transportation Research Institute<br />

(ATRI) points to increasing amounts awarded by juries in trucking-litigation<br />

cases as a cause of rising insurance rates. Additionally, the INVEST<br />

in America Act contains a provision that states that motor carriers must<br />

carry $2 million in liability insurance. The House has advanced the bill as<br />

of press time. (iStock Photo)<br />

against trucking companies had grown at a rate of 51.7% per year,<br />

compared to an annual standard inflation rate growth of 1.7%.<br />

Citing information received in a survey it conducted, ATRI<br />

noted that liability insurance premiums have increased at a similar<br />

pace — 35% to 40% for carriers deemed an “average-to-marginal”<br />

risk — and that increases of those amounts have occurred for<br />

three consecutive years.<br />

During recent protests in Washington,<br />

D.C., and elsewhere by small-business<br />

truckers, rising insurance rates were listed<br />

by many participants as an issue the government<br />

should address. Larger carriers, including<br />

the 4,000-employee Celadon, have<br />

also cited high insurance costs as a reason<br />

for economic troubles.<br />

In 2019, ATRI’s Research Advisory<br />

Committee identified so-called “nuclear<br />

verdicts” against the trucking industry<br />

as the highest research priority<br />

for the group. The results released last month<br />

are the initial result of a continuing study.<br />

As part of its research, ATRI interviewed<br />

and surveyed attorneys from both sides of<br />

litigation cases, as well as insurance and<br />

motor-carrier experts. The study contained<br />

recommendations for pretrial strategies<br />

and mediation approaches designed to help<br />

avoid large posttrial verdicts.<br />

“Runaway verdicts are increasing in both size<br />

and numbers,” said Clay Porter, Partner at Porter<br />

Rennie Woodard and Kendall. “This study<br />

documents a frequency in excessive awards<br />

that, while not surprising, tells us that the trial<br />

system has gotten completely offtrack. Foundational<br />

changes are needed in the way we determine<br />

noneconomic and punitive damages.”<br />

Another attorney, Rob Moseley with<br />

Moseley Marcinak Law Group, said, “ATRI’s<br />

research on litigation provides important<br />

10<br />

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guidance on leveling the playing field between truckers and trial<br />

lawyers, both in and outside of the courtroom.”<br />

The ATRI study breaks down jury verdicts by criteria such as<br />

number of deaths, crash type, violations and even whether children<br />

were involved. The statistics were used to develop average<br />

award amounts for each category, enabling attorneys to better predict<br />

jury awards in individual cases.<br />

A geographic analysis showed disparity between states in verdicts<br />

between plaintiffs and defendants. One example provided<br />

showed the defense winning 92.3% of cases in Alabama, while<br />

plaintiffs won 97.1% of cases tried in California.<br />

While it could be easy to assume ATRI’s results clearly show<br />

that some states are more favorable for litigation than others, it’s<br />

important to remember that the overall numbers of cases in the<br />

study are relatively small. Still, attorneys seeking the most favorable<br />

locations for their clients will surely pay attention.<br />

Another factor impacting jury awards, according to the study,<br />

is something called “litigation finance.” Although relatively unknown,<br />

the practice is rapidly expanding. Under litigation finance,<br />

a third party provides cash to one of the parties involved in a legal<br />

claim, such as a plaintiff or law firm. Repayment to the lender<br />

is made once a verdict or settlement is reached. An attorney, for<br />

example, might be able to develop a much stronger case with the<br />

capital to pay a team of investigators prior to trial.<br />

One legal firm that claims to specialize in litigating truck crash<br />

cases, Ohio-based Leizerman & Young, posted a scathing reply to the<br />

ATRI study on its website, truckaccidents.com. In the response, the<br />

firm claims that the ATRI study is flawed and that, through ATRI, “the<br />

trucking industry attempts to avoid responsibility for misconduct.”<br />

The Leizerman & Young piece points to large jury awards in two<br />

2018 cases in Upshur County, Texas, claiming that awards of $100<br />

million and $260 million skewed the data, making the overall rise in<br />

jury awards appear much worse than it actually was. Leizerman &<br />

Young’s response also noted that posttrial motions that often result<br />

in a reduction of the awarded amount, usually by agreed settlement.<br />

The ATRI study also reported that carrier size plays a part in<br />

insurance cost. A table included in the study showed that carriers<br />

with more than 1,000 trucks reported paying less than 5 cents per<br />

mile for liability coverage, while those with four or fewer trucks<br />

paid more than three times that amount at 16.5 cents per mile.<br />

A November 2019 blog post from Willis Towers Watson, a global advisory<br />

and insurance-brokering firm with 45,000 employees, predicted<br />

the rise in insurance rates before the ATRI study. “In liability lines, the<br />

losses of yesterday are paid for tomorrow,” the blog stated. “General liability<br />

is starting to show signs of distress due to loss severity.”<br />

The Willis Towers Watson blog points to “social inflation” as a<br />

cause of increased jury awards. “The key characteristics [of social<br />

inflation] include a trend to hold corporations and other organizations<br />

responsible to a much greater degree for their actions<br />

— sometimes for actions in the distant past,” the blog concluded.<br />

The blog also cited rising health care costs, and longer life<br />

spans, as factors in larger jury awards.<br />

Meanwhile, the House passed the INVEST in America Act.<br />

Those interested in repairing the country’s infrastructure were<br />

dismayed to learn that an amendment to the act increases minimum<br />

financial responsibility levels from $750,000 to $2 million.<br />

The amendment was proposed by Rep. Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-<br />

Illinois) and passed the committee by a vote of 37-27 on June 17.<br />

The amendment prompted the Owner-Operator Independent<br />

Drivers Association (OOIDA) to pull its support of the bill,<br />

saying the amendment was a “poison pill” for its membership. At<br />

the same time, American Trucking Associations (ATA), an organization<br />

comprised of mostly larger carriers, announced its support.<br />

More recently, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Illinois) introduced an<br />

amendment that would strip the requirement for the increase in<br />

financial responsibility levels from the act. Bost is a former trucker<br />

himself, and drove for his family’s trucking business before moving<br />

into a management position.<br />

OOIDA quickly announced its support for this new amendment;<br />

however, gaining acceptance through the Democrat-majority committee<br />

was an uphill battle and the amendment was not included in<br />

the final version of the INVEST Act, which is part of the Moving Forward<br />

Act. The Moving Forward Act was approved by the House July<br />

1 and passed to the Senate, where it will likely face strong opposition.<br />

Opponents of the bill complain that only $300 billion of the<br />

$1.5 trillion cost of the bill is earmarked for repair of bridges and<br />

roads, while huge amounts are slated for increasing the availability<br />

of broadband and for “green” initiatives, including $25 billion<br />

for the U.S. Postal Service to, among other goals, develop a “zero<br />

emissions” fleet of vehicles.<br />

Election years typically bode well for infrastructure bills; however,<br />

Congress has already spent lavishly to stimulate the economy during<br />

the COVID-19 crisis while suffering a sharp decline in tax revenues.<br />

The idea of taking on another $1.5 trillion in debt may be unpalatable<br />

to conservative members of Congress, and President Trump has not<br />

indicated whether he will sign the bill in its current form.<br />

For now, the road remains bumpy — both literally and figuratively<br />

— for small-business truckers who are trying to cope with<br />

rising insurance rates along with the other problems of the year<br />

2020.<br />

12<br />

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One puzzle piece at a time: Robert Morris and<br />

‘Fiona’ increase autism awareness with eye-catching<br />

custom-painted inspirational truck<br />

By Kris Rutherford<br />

Robert Morris has a lot of women in his life.<br />

“I live with seven females,” he said. “There’s my wife, twin<br />

daughters Amber and Summer (19), and three other daughters,<br />

Hayley (15), Emily (13), Caydence (7) — plus the dog.”<br />

Then there’s “Fiona,” the 2018 Peterbilt Morris drives for CDJ Bulk<br />

Express, based in West Columbia, South Carolina.<br />

As for Morris, a lot of years passed between the first time he took the<br />

wheel of a tractor-trailer and Fiona’s arrival.<br />

Growing up below the wheel<br />

“I’m a 16-year driver with 38 years of experience,” Morris said with<br />

a laugh.<br />

Like several drivers we’ve met from the days before a truckdriving<br />

job required a commercial driver’s license (CDL), Morris<br />

got into the business at an early age. Then again, for kids like<br />

Morris growing up in Southern regions like Carroll County,<br />

Georgia, learning to drive before they could reach the brake pedals<br />

wasn’t unusual. Of course, most kids didn’t start out with an 18-wheeler.<br />

“My grandfather and father both drove trucks,” said Morris, who today<br />

lives in Villa Rica, Georgia.<br />

“I remember my grandfather’s first truck,” he said. “My grandfather<br />

had a K-100 cabover. It was the first truck I ever sat in.” It was also the<br />

first truck he ever drove.<br />

“I must have been 10 or 11,” he said. “We were traveling some empty<br />

road in Texas.”<br />

Morris’s grandfather told him to sit on his lap and trying steering the<br />

truck. The next thing Morris knew, he was sitting alone in the driver’s<br />

seat; his grandfather had slipped to the passenger side.<br />

“I don’t know how far I drove,” Morris said. “It may have been a quarter-mile,<br />

but to me it felt like a hundred miles.<br />

“At some point, my grandfather offered a little training,” he continued.<br />

“He pointed to the white line on the shoulder and said, ‘Don’t cross<br />

it.’ Then he pointed to the dashed line and said, ‘Don’t cross it.’ After that,<br />

as far as I know, he slipped off into a nap.”<br />

Trucking without a booster seat<br />

Despite the family tradition, Morris didn’t rush into a professional<br />

truck-driving job. He spent a few years working in the HVAC business<br />

before taking a step toward driving a truck.<br />

“I worked as a driver’s helper, distributing food products to all Burger<br />

King franchises in the Southeast,” Morris said. When the company<br />

created an in-house CDL training program, Morris jumped in with<br />

both feet.<br />

“It was a great setup,” Morris said. “I was riding in the truck, so I just<br />

as well could have been getting hours behind the wheel. After six weeks,<br />

I had the supervised experience I needed to take the CDL test.”<br />

After Morris received his CDL, he drove for five years before becoming<br />

a trainer himself. “I rode with 24 trainees,” he said. “As far as I know,<br />

all 24 are still on the road today.”<br />

Morris says truck driving is an occupation almost tailor-made for<br />

him.<br />

“I don’t like working inside, and I really don’t like working with a<br />

lot of people,” he said. Those preferences lead to Morris hauling a lot of<br />

specialty freight, something other drivers try to avoid. He’s worked as an<br />

OTR driver but prefers driving for a small carrier like CDJ Bulk Express.<br />

“When CDJ buys a new truck, the company encourages the driver to<br />

come up with a unique color scheme or wrap, and the company pays for<br />

customization,” he said.<br />

“When I got my truck, I wanted something different,” he continued.<br />

“The trucks arrive green, and a lot of drivers just add some black or<br />

white. But the company wants us to take ‘ownership’ of our trucks, so I<br />

kept looking for something unique.”<br />

Morris’ wife, Tiffany, works as a special-education teacher at a day<br />

care. When the son of one of her co-workers was diagnosed with highfunctioning<br />

autism, Morris said the issue of autism awareness intrigued<br />

him.<br />

“The NFL and NASCAR have autism-awareness weeks,” Morris said.<br />

“I liked the idea. I showed the graphics guy the colored puzzle pieces<br />

symbolizing autism awareness. He took my idea to a whole new level.<br />

The wrap he put on is 3D.”<br />

Driving ‘Fiona’<br />

“The hood looks like it’s ‘puffing’ out as you walk by. People can’t help<br />

but touch it. I’ve posed for a lot of photos with Fiona,” Morris said.<br />

But where did the name come from?<br />

“My last truck was green, and I called it ‘The Incredible Hulk,’” Morris<br />

said. “When the kids’ movie ‘Shrek’ came out, Fiona was the ogre’s<br />

girlfriend. The guys started calling (The Incredible Hulk) ‘Fiona’ instead.”<br />

With a new green truck, Morris decided to beat them to the punch.<br />

Plus, he said, “Fiona” is a good name.<br />

14<br />

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Robert Morris said that when the company he works for, CDJ Bulk Express,<br />

purchases a new truck the company encourages the driver to come up<br />

with a unique color scheme or wrap. His wife, Tiffany, works as a specialeducation<br />

teacher at a day care. When the son of one of her co-workers<br />

was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Morris said autism awareness<br />

intrigued him. (Photos courtesy of Robert Morris)<br />

“Drivers like naming parts of their trucks,” Morris<br />

said. “Fiona has twin stacks — there’s Becky and then<br />

there’s Bill.’”<br />

You’ve got to give Morris a break, after all. With all<br />

those women around, it’s only fair he has an exhaust stack<br />

on his side.<br />

Morris said he hopes Fiona’s autism-awareness theme<br />

helps people understand the struggles different families<br />

face.<br />

“My first introduction to autism (was) a family at<br />

church who had a son on the spectrum. He was nonverbal,<br />

with sensory issues,” Morris said. For Morris, meeting<br />

and watching the youngster was an education in itself.<br />

“One day he had what other folks called a ‘temper<br />

tantrum,’” Morris said. “But it wasn’t a tantrum; it was a<br />

full-fledged meltdown. I could see his family was really<br />

struggling.” It turned out the wind had blown the youngster’s<br />

hair a direction he didn’t like, and he experienced<br />

sensory overload.<br />

“Part of Fiona’s message is, ‘Don’t judge a kid off what<br />

you think you know,’” Morris said. “Every kid is unique,<br />

and every family has unique challenges.”<br />

A benefit of driving Fiona is the many people, including<br />

drivers, who take the time to tell the stories of their<br />

own children who are on the autism spectrum.<br />

“They really seem to appreciate what I’m doing with<br />

my truck,” Morris said.<br />

Puzzling the pieces together<br />

Morris advises anyone interested in driving a truck to<br />

understand that it is not a job — and it is not a career,<br />

either.<br />

“Truck driving is a lifestyle,” he said. As a driver, he<br />

and his family accept the impact the nature of the job has<br />

on their lifestyle.<br />

“They all know that when I’m home, it’s only temporary,”<br />

Morris said. “And during that time, I only have<br />

a few hours a week to be a dad, husband, lawn boy and<br />

handyman.”<br />

As far as driving a truck for a living is concerned,<br />

Morris said young drivers need to steer clear of the stereotypes<br />

shown on television.<br />

“It’s not all ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ out there,” Morris<br />

said.<br />

As Morris suggests, driving a truck may not be as entertaining<br />

as Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed creating chaos<br />

between Texarkana and Atlanta. In the real world, it’s<br />

Robert Morris, his family and Fiona, Becky and Bill, all<br />

traveling with a purpose — focusing on autism to remind<br />

us our differences don’t nearly offset the sum of what we<br />

have in common.<br />

16<br />

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