Insurance broker McGriff has more than 120 offices throughout the United States, but its Kennesaw location has a particular significance for the Georgia trucking industry. The office was brought on board in 2001 and has been involved with GMTA for 20 years.
“McGriff is a big believer in niche business, and trucking is our focus,” said Reese Smith, agency executive. “We were one of the first offices to have that transportation expertise.” Smith himself has been in the industry since 1989, and works with trucking companies in many different sectors, including truckload, LTL, flatbed, tanker, intermodal and moving and storage.
McGriff is part of Truist Insurance, which is owned by Truist Financial Corporation, an entity formed through the merger of BB&T and Sun Trust. “The beauty of being bank-owned is that we can offer a full array of financial services and investments, including property and casualty insurance, employee benefits, liability and life insurance. We can address anything; you name it, we are able to bring any of our partners to the table when there’s a need,” said Smith.
LAWSUIT ABUSE REFORM NEEDED
As a transportation insurance specialist, Smith is very familiar with the many challenges that trucking companies must deal with every day. These include driver shortages, new regulations and an infrastructure that’s badly in need of repair. Although insurers can’t do a lot to assist with some of these problems, there are areas where they can provide guidance.
The pandemic is one example. As companies have tried to keep their employees safe and meet their commitments during the last year, McGriff’s Risk Solutions Group has been able to help them with risk control and with the best practices concerning preventing COVID-19 in the workplace, Smith said.
“The pandemic has been particularly hard on smaller fleets; many didn’t have an emergency response plan in place for managing operations in the event of a disaster or a pandemic,” Smith said. Fortunately, the trucking industry is an essential industry and has proven itself to be resilient. “They’re almost like Marines; they’re able to improvise, and they’re resourceful, and in most cases they bounce back.”
He understands that rising insurance premiums continue to be a concern for trucking. The biggest reason for the increase is the constantly growing number of lawsuits against trucking companies and the out-of-control awards (“nuclear verdicts”) that juries are making to plaintiffs. Litigation financing, in which a third party provides the capital to a law firm or a plaintiff so they can pursue a suit, has also made the situation worse, Smith said. So has the fact that a large majority of people involved in an accident with a trucking company now seek out an attorney to assist in making a claim, a big change from just a decade ago.
The 2019 case in Muskogee County in which the jury awarded the plaintiffs $285 million, is one example of the problem. “These cases have grown exponentially over the last four to five years, and when you start getting those types of awards handed out by juries, it’s a domino effect. It causes a lot of heartburn not only for the trucking companies, but for the industry in general,” he said.
Because of these huge awards, “Most of the insurance carriers [of trucking insurance]have not made a profit since 2011. So it’s difficult to attract capacity and capital,” Smith said. This means rates are unlikely to go down anytime soon.
Smith said that McGriff supports GMTA’s efforts on both the state and federal level to convince legislators of the importance of tort reform in getting the situation under control.
Technology like the cameras that many companies are installing on trucks may also help prevent fraudulent claims. In one recent court case, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that the video of an accident taken with a camera on a truck could be used as evidence in a lawsuit, despite the fact that it refuted an eye witness’ testimony. Although the ruling only applies to Florida, it does set a precedent that other states could follow.
Assisting trucking companies with their insurance needs in this difficult market starts with paying attention to their particular situation, Smith said. “It’s not necessarily about what I can bring to the table. It’s about what our customers’ concerns are, what their needs are. I want to hear about their operation, I want to hear about what keeps them awake at night, and about where they need help,” he said. “We try to come up with solutions based on what we hear in that story.”
A company’s CAB (Central Analysis Bureau) report is a major factor in determining its insurance costs, he added. “The single most important factor is taking care of your shop and making sure that you keep your CAB scores in line. If you do that, you can control your destiny and your cost. If you don’t, you can get into some serious problems with your insurance costs. So we will come in and help, we’ll study where the problems are, then offer some suggestions and solutions,” Smith said.
Membership in GMTA is another way to support trucking companies, and to show McGriff’s commitment to the industry, he added. The company has been a member of the organization since the early 2000s, and Smith personally has been a member since 1989. “There are good people in this industry, and it’s a tight-knit family,” he said. “We help by sponsoring GMTA activities like the convention and the golf tournament each year.”
GMTA provides him with the opportunity to talk with trucking company leaders in a more informal setting, which is helpful in gaining a better understanding of the industry. “We like going to these events and getting some one-on-one time with people away from the hustle and bustle,” Smith said.