Interviewer: Welcome back, listeners, to “All the News You Can Use”! It’s time again for “Your Legal Minute” — where we interview attorneys who are experts in their field and dig down to get practical advice and “All the News You Can Use”! Today, we’ve got Carson Runge from the Sloan Firm, which has offices in Longview and Houston, Texas. Carson immediately went to work for the firm after graduating from Baylor Law School.
Welcome back, Carson. Now at the break you had mentioned something about these trucking companies and their insurance carriers and opposing counsel are deflecting blame and putting it on other parties. I guess that’s something that myself and the public doesn’t typically know. That’s not common knowledge.
Carson: Yes, that is something we have to prepare our clients for. They are often times surprised and angered when they hear that the 18-wheeler company refuses to take responsibility. I have seen the tactics that are most often used by the 18-wheeler litigation community including their insurance company and their lawyers. In nearly every case, the defense tactic is to point the finger either at the victim or a third party that has no responsibility, or to try to minimize the injuries. 18-wheeler companies, their lawyers, and their insurance companies hardly ever, if ever, take responsibility for causing a wreck or the damage that results from a wreck.
As plaintiff’s lawyers, what we do is hold the 18-wheeler company accountable. And we do everything in our power to hold them accountable not only for what they did, for causing the wreck, but also for the damages that resulted from the wreck.
We handle trucking cases from the very start to the very end and all the things in between, which include helping our clients get healthcare for their injuries and making sure their injuries have been identified, diagnosed, and treated.
We go to the scene, we hire the top experts in the state, accident reconstructionists, and a series of other experts depending on the facts of the case to show the facts, to show what happened, and to show how the 18-wheeler company is responsible for causing the wreck.
Interviewer: This Tracy Morgan case is all over the news with the Walmart truck driver. And we’re seeing Walmart saying on one hand, “If our driver is responsible, we’ll fully live up to everything.” But then there’s a counter-suit saying that “Tracy Morgan is responsible and so is his dead friend because they didn’t wear seat belts.” Can you comment on that? That just doesn’t seem right at all.
Carson: Sure. For years and years and years, the insurance companies through lobbyists and commercials have done an excellent job convincing the public that there are too many frivolous lawsuits.
But the truth is that there are so many more frivolous defenses than there are frivolous lawsuits. Any corporation that is sued can stand up and point the finger at anybody else. They can point the finger back at the victim. They can and will point a finger anywhere but themselves. They can make up whatever defense they want, whether it’s based in truth or not.
In this case, you have Walmart whose truck driver unquestionably ran into the back of the limo. And their defense is that it’s Tracy Morgan’s fault because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt? Well, the fact that he wasn’t wearing a seat belt would not come into play if Walmart’s truck driver didn’t cream the back of the limo.
We as a country – we as a people – need to start having a conversation about accountability and about companies actually taking responsibility for their actions.
That is, in addition to talking about frivolous law suits, we need to talk about frivolous defenses. It’s a topic that is never discussed by our politicians. It’s a topic we don’t see in commercials, on TV, or in advertisements on the radio. The reason why we don’t is because the insurance companies have great lobbyists. They spend millions if not billions of dollars trying to manipulate the way we as a public think. And thus far they’ve been successful.
Interviewer: Right. I guess it would have been different if they said there was some contributory negligence without the seat belt. But they actually said “wholly or partially responsible.” So basically, they’re saying that in whole, the entire situation was, “They weren’t wearing seat belts; that’s how they got run into by the 18-wheeler.” That’s just so far beyond what is reasonable. It’s just crazy.
Carson: Yes it is, and it is infuriating. But, in my opinion, that is a classic example of a frivolous defense.
Interviewer: Now, with Walmart being the #1 corporation in the world, with over a trillion in sales, how do you go up against the biggest company in the world? They probably have buildings full of lawyers. What would you suggest? How would you go about it?
Carson: You have to be aggressive. And that’s what we do here. We don’t care how big you are. We don’t care how bad you think you are. We’re going to come, and we’re going to do everything in our power to get justice for our client.
Interviewer: Right. When you say that, do you mean aggressive enough so that they look at the whole situation and decide they better settle rather than take the chance to go to court with you?
Carson: With any defendant, there are a lot of law firms out there that claim to be trial law firms that are afraid to try cases. When a defendant knows that the injured party’s lawyer is willing and will go try a law suit, it changes their perspective because at that point, they know that 12 jurors will be able to look at the facts and will be able to evaluate the 18-wheeler company’s “defenses.”
I think Walmart’s seat belt “defense” would make a lot of jurors mad. Having a firm like ours, Walmart knows that Sloan, Bagley, Hatcher and Perry will not hesitate to go inside the courthouse, to pick a jury, and to try a case. And that helps. That’s part of being aggressive. We’re aggressive from the get-go. We go to the scene. We find the evidence. We talk with the police officers. We talk with the DPS troopers. We hire our own experts.
Doing all those things – taking depositions of the driver, the driver’s boss, the corporate representative of Walmart, and anybody else at Walmart or otherwise who have knowledge of relevant facts is part of being aggressive. We do it all. We totally work up the case and leave no stone unturned.
Interviewer: That’s very important. We’ve heard some horror stories like before the police even leave the scene, the truck driver got a representative from the insurance company or the trucking company already coaching him. There might be issues with duplicate log books or things like that. Have you run into anything along those lines?
Carson: Sure. There is no doubt that the 18-wheeler industry and their insurance companies have a network so that the minute there is a wreck or a collision, they can send a team of investigators to the scene within hours.
You’ll have the insurance company’s investigators out there on scene within an hour or two of a major wreck. While the cars may still be on fire, and when the victim is at the hospital not even thinking about a lawyer or a lawsuit, the insurance company and their team of investigators – including lawyers – are already on the scene.
And if people don’t think that an insurance company is above not documenting evidence, I think they’re mistaken.
Interviewer: I’ve actually been able to talk to a few of those attorneys that represent the insurance company and the trucking companies. It’s unbelievable how they pretty much scoff or laugh at the position that the other attorney is in. They got all the information right up front to a point where I’ve recommended to all my friends and family that they figure out who their attorney is going to be before they even get to the next onramp.
Carson: I understand why you would do that. I think it’s important for people to realize that if you’re involved in a serious wreck, contact a lawyer. The insurance company is not going to play fair. They don’t make money by paying you what’s fair. They make money by collecting premiums and not paying out.
Call a lawyer. There’s no charge if you call us. We’ll meet with you – there’s no charge. You only pay a fee if we successfully represent you and get you a settlement that you approve or a verdict in trial.
Interviewer: Also, I’ve understood that it’s not just “call any lawyer.” You really want somebody who’s been involved in these cases before because they’re a lot different than auto cases. Can you comment on that?
Carson: Sure. Your typical car wreck is not the same as a wreck involving a commercial truck such as an 18-wheeler. Everything is different. 18-wheelers still have to adhere to the Texas rules of the road that are found in the Transportation Code and comply with local statutes and ordinances including state statutes and ordinances.
But they also have to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which really provide and regulate every aspect of driving an 18-wheeler on the road: inspections, maintenance programs, weight, brakes, tires, driver’s logs, how many hours of sleep the driver gets before he gets on the road, etc.
All of these things affect how an 18-wheeler driver performs and how the rig itself – how the tractor and trailer – performs on the road. Having a lawyer who knows where to look is vitally important to successfully prosecute a negligent 18-wheeler driver and company.
Interviewer: In Texas especially, there have been some of the largest verdicts that I’ve heard about. At the end of last year, there was a $281 million verdict and a few other multi-million dollar verdicts including punitive damages. Is there a trend in Texas for the judges sending out a message?
Carson: I don’t know if there’s a trend in Texas for judges sending out a message. But I think that Texans in general – the people who come encompass our juries – believe in the idea of taking responsibility for your actions.
In my opinion, punitive damages are the result of a company that goes into a courtroom and tries to deflect responsibility, that points the finger everywhere but itself. I think Texans are tired of these 18-wheeler companies deflecting responsibility and failing to take responsibility for their actions.
To me, that is the reason why you’re seeing some punitive damages awarded in Texas.
Interviewer: That makes good sense. Another question that we get all the time is “What is my case worth?” I know that’s an impossible question to answer unless you’ve got a lot more facts. But what are the types of things that you’ve seen in your past and in your experience? Or with your expert witnesses or your investigators? What are the things you’ve done to uncover and unearth information that leads to a larger verdict or larger settlement?
Carson: True. The value of the case – what is my case worth? – is dependent on numerous factors that range from the injury to what law firm is selected by the injured person. To obtain full value of a case, you have to know what you’re doing and you have to work up the case. You have to take depositions. You have to find all the evidence and piece those pieces of evidence together so you can get a full picture of what happened, why it happened, and the injuries that resulted.
That’s how you determine and obtain full value for the client. You have to let them know that you’re more than willing to walk into a courtroom and try it to members of the community so the voice of the community can be heard.
Interviewer: Now, you guys have an app. You’ve got a free app that people can download on their mobile phones, whether that’s an Android or an iPhone, where they can be documenting right at the scene photos of the skid marks. They can be having witnesses do a recording of what they saw and what they heard. Also, people can also press a button and be right on the phone with an attorney at Sloan, Hatcher, Perry, Runge, Robertson & Smith Law Firm, asking their questions right from the scene.
Carson: Sure. The app is a way for us to try to have clients, or other people with our clients, obtain information. All too often, we’ll get a case months after an 18-wheeler wreck or a car wreck or another type of incident where someone is hurt.
Our clients will tell us, “There were three witnesses.” Many times, the police officer or the state trooper who investigated do not write those witnesses’ names down. They don’t write the witnesses’ telephone numbers down. And it can be difficult locating and identifying those witnesses months later. With our app, if you’re unable to write the witnesses’ names, you can have someone else write the witnesses’ names and contact information down.
Like I said earlier, in a major wreck with a commercial vehicle such as an 18-wheeler, an insurance company representative – including lawyers – will be at the scene within hours if not within an hour. The app provides you an opportunity to have your representative, the Sloan Firm, out at the scene just like the insurance company would have theirs out at the scene. It’s just a way for us to try to combat what the insurance companies are doing.
Interviewer: That is so important. Are there any particular cases that come to mind where there is a particular turn of law or something that you were able to do for your clients that maybe they didn’t think that’s possible? Some particular successes that you had?
Carson: Sure. In every 18-wheeler case that I’ve had, I filed a lawsuit and the first thing that the 18-wheeler company filed was a denial by the 18-wheeler company saying that they deny every fact that I’ve alleged in the petition. And in nearly every 18-wheeler case I’ve had, the 18-wheeler company never initially admitted responsibility and never initially accepted responsibility, but through our hard work, through us taking depositions, through us going to the scene to inspect the vehicles and talk with witnesses, through us hiring experts – we’ve been able to prove that the 18-wheeler company’s driver was responsible and have been able to obtain very good settlements for our clients.
Interviewer: That’s excellent. Any particular cases come to mind?
Carson: Sure. I had a case where the 18-wheeler driver was driving a tanker truck full of petroleum products that are highly flammable. Before he got into his 18-wheeler, he knew his brakes were not operating properly. He called his supervisor back at the corporate office. And his supervisor told him to drive it anyway.
He got on the road on a back highway in East Texas and drove it. A vehicle in front of him slowed to turn left. He could not stop. He swerved to the left, crossed the double yellow line, and hit my client.
In his deposition, he said something to the effect of, “Your client swerved to the right when I was in his lane. If he wouldn’t have swerved to the right, this would have not have happened.” His defense was the fact that my client swerved to the right when there was one lane and there was an 80,000-pound 18-wheeler directly in his lane. They wanted to point the finger at my client.
Through depositions, going to the scene, talking with witnesses, talking with the investigating officers, and hiring our own experts, we were able to obtain a settlement that our client was very satisfied with. I am confident that through our work, the 18-wheeler company knew its defense that my client was at fault was not going to win. We see “defenses” similar to that in every case. In every case, the defendant is going to point the finger at the victim or somewhere else. I guess that’s one example.
Interviewer: It seems like you almost have to be prepared to prove that you were not at fault and where the liability should be placed even though you’re the victim.
Carson: There’s no doubt that if you are a victim of an 18-wheeler wreck, nine times out of ten, the 18-wheeler company is going to say that you did something wrong. Nine times out of ten, the 18-wheeler company is going to say it’s your fault. Through taking depositions, through taking eyewitness statements, through talking with the trooper, through examining the tread and mud on the road, through inspecting the 18-wheeler itself and demonstrating that it was the 18-wheeler driver who caused the wreck, you have necessarily shown that the defendant’s defense is frivolous and therefore have exonerated the victim from wrongdoing.
Interviewer: Okay, so if you could, could you share a checklist or some recommendations of what you might suggest that people do or have prepared ahead of time? And then what they should do should an unfortunate situation like this happen to them or a loved one?
Carson: Sure. If you are involved in a wreck with an 18-wheeler or if you have a loved one or a friend who’s involved in a wreck with an 18-wheeler, there are certain things that I would recommend. The first thing is to seek medical treatment to make sure you get treatment for your injuries. I think that’s kind of a no-brainer. But sometimes people try to tough it out. When it comes to your health, just go get checked out and make sure that you are okay. The second thing is within a day if not a few hours, someone from that 18-wheeler company will call you. And usually, it is an insurance adjuster, and they’re going to try to get you to provide a recorded statement. Do not give recorded statements. The people who are calling you trying to a get a recording statement are trained to ask you certain questions in certain ways. Don’t do that. The insurance adjuster is a person who is a representative of the 18-wheeler company. They’re not going to do you any favors. They’re not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. And their questions are sure to point the finger away from the 18-wheeler driver. Do not give them that. Do not give them the benefit of your time. Just politely refuse to give a recorded statement and hang up. You have no obligation to talk with them or to give a recorded statement, so don’t do it. And the third thing I would say is call a lawyer. Do not wait to call a lawyer. Call a lawyer who does 18-wheeler wrecks and call them quickly. Do not delay.
Interviewer: That’s great. Thank you, Carson. Now, your firm has offices in Houston and Longview in Texas. But you take on cases throughout the entire state?
Carson: Absolutely. We have cases all over the state of Texas and beyond the state of Texas.
Interviewer: And what would you suggest are the best ways for people to find out more about your firm or connect with you and call if they got any questions?
Interviewer: Okay, and Carson, how about your name, phone number, email, anything like that? Would you want to share any of that?
Carson: Sure. My email is email@example.com. My number is (903) 757-7000.
Interviewer: I really appreciate your helping everybody out with answers to these questions today. Thank you for your time.