Telematics: A Sword and a Shield

A helping hand in complex trucking litigation

September 13, 2023 Photo

The transportation industry plays a crucial role in global commerce, and it has to constantly adapt to technological advancements, economic fluctuations, shifting consumer demands, and the legal landscape.

Telematics has emerged as a vital tool to help navigate automotive claim complexities, optimize results, and enhance customer satisfaction. With appropriate knowledge of the available information that may exist, and the benefits and challenges that such information might bring, both carriers and outside counsel can leverage telematics to improve claims outcomes.

The Advantages of Telematics

While there are various benefits for automotive organizations, telematics is regarded as a game-changer for motor carriers to optimize operations, enhance safety, and, crucially, streamline claims outcomes. With the ability to track and record valuable data such as speed, location, and other relevant metrics, telematics offers carriers a comprehensive view of fleet operations and enables decision-makers to make informed conclusions in the event of accidents or adverse events. To effectively harness this data, carriers and counsel can focus on leveraging telematics throughout the claims process.

The use of dash cams and other cameras in vehicles is the first line of defense in our claims handling. These devices can show who had a stop sign, or the color of a light at an intersection before the moment of impact. Newer cameras can even show miles per hour at impact.

Furthermore, the ability to pull the engine control module (ECM) data on claims can be vital to defense. Using ECM data can show at what point a vehicle was braking, with how much force, and at what speed the vehicle was traveling.

Even raw data beyond videos can be instrumental in resolving a claim. One of the most significant advantages of telematics is the ability to provide objective evidence in trucking litigation defense. Telematics systems can capture and record critical data, including vehicle speed, acceleration, braking, and GPS location. This data can be invaluable when reconstructing an accident or evaluating driver behavior, potentially reducing liability and/or proving the driver's adherence to safety protocols.

The content of these videos or data allows claims professionals to immediately assess liability and helps guide outside counsel in valuing a claim. For instance, when the video collected reflects that a driver is not at fault, outside counsel can marshal additional resources to support this evidence and preserve it for defense. Often, a video that reflects that a driver did nothing wrong can be shared with the opposing parties and may result in alleged claims being dropped.

The prevention of exorbitant jury verdicts is also an area that can be positively influenced by telematics. Even if telematic data cannot fully exculpate the CMV driver, it may still be relevant in reducing exposure in a file. For instance, if the weight and other metrics of the tractor and trailer are factored in, telematic data may help prove whether a vehicle could have stopped in time or that defensive maneuvers were taken, which can assist in countering punitive damage claims.

On the other hand, if video or telematics indicate potential liability on the part of the CMV driver, or could at least present a savvy plaintiff’s attorney with an argument to obfuscate relevant facts, both outside counsel and the insurer will need this information to develop the most appropriate resolution plan for the file. Maybe an earlier settlement at a perceived premium should be attempted via pre-suit mediation to prevent adverse telematics from being produced in discovery. Maybe deposition testimony from either the motor carrier or CMV driver should be preemptively steered to explain adverse telematics. In any event, to navigate potential pitfalls presented by adverse telematics, the entire defense team must know what and where they are.

Telematics Concerns

This leads to one of the biggest concerns presented by the existence of telematics: the preservation of evidence. Promptly collecting and preserving information, especially in a rapid response after an accident, is crucial. In many jurisdictions, mere negligent loss or destruction of available evidence may result in a spoliation instruction and adverse inference against a trucking company. It is, therefore, essential for all involved parties to be aware of what telematic data might exist and what steps need to be taken to preserve it. For trucking companies, maintaining good housekeeping and checklists of their fleet’s data ensures that, in the event of an accident, the defense team can swiftly begin preserving necessary evidence, which expedites the investigation and streamlines the resolution.

But what is good for the goose may, in fact, be good for the gander. Some telematics data is not unique solely to commercial motor vehicles. Today, many private cars on the road have internal computers that will register speeds and braking, and some are even equipped with after-market dash cameras to capture the same type of footage that would exist with a CMV. Being aware of telematics that exists in the trucking industry should only serve to help the defense team—outside counsel, adjusters, reconstructionists, and other experts—to preserve and gather outside evidence that may prove vital in defending a claim. Combined with data that might exist from the tractor-trailer, this information can be used to paint a clearer and more comprehensive picture of how an accident truly occurred and who may—or may not—ultimately be liable for its cause.

The Bottom Line

The trucking industry is well aware that accidents involving large trucks or commercial vehicles can be particularly complex and result in severe financial damage. Unfortunately, the plaintiff’s bar is similarly aware of this potential exposure and looks for every tool it can find to increase verdicts and settlement amounts. Telematics, when understood and used appropriately, is the latest, most powerful tool to avoid such outcomes by providing objective and irrefutable evidence that helps establish and allocate liability.

Continued advancements in telematics will only further serve to assist claims teams in the adjudication process while also improving outcomes and profitability for trucking companies industrywide. By leveraging telematics data, carriers and outside counsel can effectively address potential issues, identify areas for improvement, and mitigate risks before they escalate. Ideally, data and trends pulled from telematics can even lead to better, safer driving habits on drivers new to the industry, which will ultimately help prevent claims before they are initiated.

About The Authors
Multiple Contributors
Caryn Siebert

Caryn Siebert is vice president, carrier practice, with Gallagher Bassett, and previously was CLM’s litigation management professional of the

Christopher G. Dunnells

Christopher G. Dunnells is an attorney at DunbarMonroe, P.A.

Doug Betkowski

Doug Betkowski is senior vice president, transportation practice leader at GB Specialty (Division of Gallagher Bassett).

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CLM’s Transportation Committee provides education, training, and solutions on significant current commercial and personal transportation issues facing insurance carriers, corporations, and other entities and individuals.

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