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August 13, 2018 3:45 PM, EDT

Opinion: Trucking Companies Can Reap Big Recoveries in Small Claims

Does your trucking company write off thousands of dollars of small losses due to the negligence of other drivers? While small-dollar claims might not seem worth the hassle of collecting, they can add up quickly and amount to significant business losses.

Instead of pushing them to the side, consider pursuing them. Their combined recovery can substantially increase your bottom-line profit.

Eckert

Eckert

Minor damage to equipment is often just written off as a cost of doing business, but even something as simple as damage to a truck mirror can be worth pursuing. While the mirror might only cost a few hundred dollars to replace, the downtime incurred while the tractor is down for repair could be many times this amount. Ordering and installing the correct parts takes time away from the road and money from your bottom line. And the repair must be made, because driving without a mirror is unsafe and gives a roadside inspector a reason to write a ticket. Bottom line: you can’t legally haul loads until that mirror is repaired.

Does your carrier have a system for collecting losses, big or small? Trucking companies should record and pursue not only the cost of repair, but downtime losses of income, cost of rental equipment, towing and hotels, and any other closely related consequential damages.

If an at-fault party refuses to pay the demand, small claims court is a viable option. Small claims court is designed for the non-lawyer, but there are many attorneys who handle small claims on a contingency fee basis — only requiring payment of fees if they collect your compensation.

The small claims court process is much shorter and simpler than the regular court process, offering quicker results. Laws and limits vary by state, but cases are typically filed in the state where the accident occurred. Be sure to file as soon as you can, because witnesses may vanish and each state has a statute of limitation — in some cases it’s as short as one year — in which to file your claim.

Whether or not you hire an attorney, the court will require you to prove two things: Liability: prove the other side is at fault; and, damages: prove how much they owe you.

Just because your business was the victim of an accident doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for the other side to fix your equipment. Mitigation of the damages is key.

Mitigation is your attempt to make your losses as small as possible, whether by renting other equipment or finding other solutions. The court will most likely want to know how you mitigated your damages after the incident.

Sometimes it’s not possible to mitigate losses. For example, a car hauler would have a tough time finding substitute equipment; finding an auto transport trailer rental can be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. While specialized equipment may be difficult or impossible to rent, you must make a reasonable effort to mitigate your damages and keep written records of these efforts.

Simply facing a lawsuit often provides enough motivation to persuade the adverse party to negotiate. In that case, the filing fee and sheriff’s fee payments are money well-spent in pursuit of a settlement. If the matter does go to trial, be ready to prove your case with documented evidence and live witness testimony. Proof of lost income may require providing either actual lost loads or a history of income in order to calculate the lost income. Even though you’re an honest person with a valid claim, your case won’t get far without documented proof of your losses.

Starting today, double check your company’s recent records. There may be recovery opportunities you haven’t considered. Especially if your company has narrow profit margins, the unexpected recoveries of these losses would help improve that margin.

Collecting the small claims may be more worthwhile than you think. You wouldn’t throw your loose change in the trash, so why throw your dollars away?

Attorney Kelsea Eckert and the staff at the law offices of Eckert & Associates, P.A. aggressively pursue and collect downtime claims for owner-operators and fleets, as well as subrogation matters for insurance companies.