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What Did the ATRI Report Actually Tell Us About Nuclear Verdicts in the Trucking Industry?

— February 5, 2021

What was the selection criteria for the 600 cases? What are the “external sources” that ATRI used to attain the data on these cases?

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) study, Understanding the Impact of Nuclear Verdicts on the Trucking Industry did not address its stated query.

Instead of studying the impact of verdicts above $10 million, the report focused on the impact of verdicts above $1 million. ATRI could address this major deficiency and the concerns below about the report by releasing the raw data and clarifying their data selection methods.

Lack of Visibility of $10 M Verdicts

The ATRI report emphasized the $10 million figure as it relates to nuclear verdicts in the introduction and summary of their report, but their analysis is scant on a breakdown of verdicts that exceed this amount. For example, Fig. 2 cuts off after $5 million rather than having a column for cases with verdicts over $10 million. The report also breaks down the number of cases with verdicts over $1 million and compares numbers of cases between two timeframes (2005-2011 and 2012-2019).

Question: If the report’s focus is on cases over $10 million, why didn’t ATRI have a chart showing the comparison of $10 million cases over the two timeframes?

Answering this question can help ATRI address the main concern that their report was not a “bait and switch” that addressed verdicts over $1 million instead of those exceeding $10 million.

Inflation Tracks with Verdict Size Until Year with Outlier Verdict

Some of the data in the report runs counter to ATRI’s claims that truck crash verdicts are skyrocketing without any relation to inflation. In Figure 6., the report shows the change in average verdict size (over $1 million), annual inflation, and annual healthcare inflation by year. From 2010 to 2017, verdict size tracked to inflation. It was not until 2018, the year in which a $91 million verdict occurred, that these two trends diverged.

With the limited sample size, this one case could have skewed 2018’s result.

It is also worth noting that ATRI’s recently released Analysis of the Operational Cost of Trucking: 2020 Update found that between 2018 and 2019, the largest percentage decrease for average marginal costs for a motor carrier came from insurance premiums. In fact, the average marginal cost per mile was nearly the same in 2019 ($0.068) as it was in 2011 ($0.067).

Methodology Does Not Explain How Data Was Selected

The report does not clearly explain how ATRI collected the data for the cases analyzed. ATRI noted that they “compiled litigation data for 600 cases… and data was collected and amalgamated from multiple external sources in the industry.”

Questions: What was the selection criteria for the 600 cases? What are the “external sources” that ATRI used to attain the data on these cases?

Stack of paperwork. Image via Maxpixel. Claimed as public domain / CCA-BY-0.0.

The report also notes that “the data were cleaned, and 149 observations were excluded, due to missing information and lack of statistical merit.’’ Without seeing these 149 cases, it is impossible to know how ATRI determined which cases lacked statistical merit.

ATRI Report Does not Consider Worsening Trends in Truck Safety as Cause of Rising Premiums/Insurance Costs

The report fails to acknowledge the worsening state of truck safety in the United States.

In 2019, there were 5,005 people killed in crashes involving large trucks, a 48 percent increase from 2009.

Truck crash injuries increased from 74,000 to 151,000 from 2009 to 2018.

An estimated 531,000 large trucks were involved in police reported crashes in 2018; up from 296,000 large trucks involved in traffic crashes in 2009.

The increase in the number of truck crashes, injuries, and deaths and injuries should be factored into this analysis. Higher crash risks lead to higher rates.


The ATRI study did not address its supposed focus – the impact of verdicts of $10 million or more. This shortcoming coupled with concerns about the report’s data selection and analysis should warrant caution before accepting the report’s findings. Releasing the raw data used in this report and answering the abovementioned questions can help allay these concerns about the ATRI report.

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