The 11th largest jury award this year was recently given to a 74-year old man who was seriously injured when a U-Haul truck he rented ran over him. U-Haul – whom the plaintiff’s attorney claimed routinely failed to service their vehicles – claimed that the award, which came to $85 million, was “another example of abuse of the legal system against corporate citizens in America.”
Proponents of legal reform might be tempted to side with U-Haul – after all, $84 million is a lot of money – is any injury worth that much? Was the company really so negligent that they deserved that kind of financial punishment? You might be inclined to think not, but of course that is what large corporations like U-Haul want you to believe. They’re the good guys, providing products and services to American citizens, while greedy trial lawyers and opportunistic victims look for a quick way to make a buck and ruin the corporation’s good name.
Not so fast. It is hard to feel sorry for a company that earlier this year settled a wrongful death suit with the family of a man who was killed by a U-Haul truck with a defective parking brake. The terms of the settlement were confidential, so we don’t know what U-Haul considers a fair amount of money for the loss of a human life. Two disastrous accidents so close together beg the question: is this merely a coincidence, or is it a symptom of greater problems within the company?
A Sordid Track Record
In 2007 the LA Times ran a series of articles about U-Haul’s shocking maintenance practices (or lack thereof) and what could be termed their pursuit of profit over safety. The three-part expose revealed the dark underbelly of a corporation that will on the one hand claim to be a victim of an unfair legal system, while on the other hand will work hard to squeeze profit out of every corner of the business, even if their employees and customers suffer – and sometimes die.
The LA Times performed an exhaustive year-long investigation into U-Haul, during which they conducted over 200 interviews, and reviewed thousands of pages of court records, police reports, consumer complaints and other documents. The end result? The reporters concluded that company practices contribute to accidents. That’s right, the same company railing against abuse of the legal system can’t even perform basic maintenance on their own vehicles – to the detriment of their customers.
A summary of problems at U-Haul:
- 4,595 vehicles on the road with over 200,000 miles
- Mechanics admit to falsifying safety records
- Mechanics rated by efficiency, not by quality of work, contributing to poor maintenance
- Over half of vehicles investigated were found to be overdue for safety inspections
- High employee turnover and low staffing results in poor maintenance
- Dealers that allow customers to haul trailers that are too large for their vehicle
- The company reduced the required vehicle weight for towing to a potentially unsafe number in order to increase rentals, but routinely ignores its own rules and allows customers to tow unsafe weights
- The Ontario Ministry of Transportation removed 20% of U-Haul’s vehicles from service during a safety inspection – competing companies had only 4% of their vehicles taken out of service
- Safety checks after vehicles are returned or before they are rented out not performed
- The company failed to preserve evidence in several cases, and was twice severely sanctioned by judges for their actions.
Ruled by Profit
When profit is the main motive for business, punishment for negligence is best served in financial terms. Companies that chose to focus on profit over safety should not be surprised when juries react by awarding large payments to victims for their injuries and suffering. How else can our legal system get the message through to companies like this that safety is a serious matter, and cannot be compromised no matter the profit to be made?
When these kinds of tragic cases are preceded by a long track record of seemingly negligent behavior, it is truly shocking for the company in question to turn around and complain about the size of a jury settlement. What we’d like to know is how much money it will take – and how many deaths and tragic accidents – until companies like U-Haul clean up their act. That is the real issue, not so-called abuse of the legal system.
If you or someone you love has suffered in a car or truck accident, then the attorneys at our Houston based law firm want to hear from you. We believe that through continuous and vigilant defense of injured clients we can help even the playing field and ensure that victims of auto or truck accidents aren’t taken advantage of by large corporations and insurance companies. To discuss your case today, contact us on our website or call us toll-free at 877-724-7800.