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Important Information for Victims of Crashes Involving Columbia Distributing Vehicles

One of the reasons that victims are often surprised how difficult it is to obtain fair compensation from a trucking company after a wreck is the sheer number of variables that can affect how cases against them proceed. While some of these factors, like a company's reluctance to turn over evidence, may be reasonably apparent, others might never occur to someone who didn't litigate these cases for a living.

Among these are the costs of companies with unionized workforces, like Columbia Distributing. While its drivers may be happy to be receiving higher pay and mandated benefits, those perks come at a significant cost for their employer. In today's challenging environment for commercial transportation, that means the company has to try to cut back wherever else it can, including the costs of injury or wrongful death suits. And that means they're likely to aggressively contest their liability with all of the resources at their disposal. Semi-truck accident attorney Michael Grossman, a D Magazine Top Lawyer in Dallas, explains how victims can overcome this resistance.

Questions Answered on This Page:

  • What is Columbia Distributing?
  • How many crashes involving injury or death has the company been involved in?
  • What effects could the added costs of Columbia's unionized workforce have on your case?

Columbia Distributing Quick Facts
Crash statistics from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data

What is Columbia Distributing?

Started in 1935 in the Portland, OR area, alcoholic beverage wholesaler Columbia Distributing currently controls the 96th-largest private fleet in the U.S. Its roughly 600 vehicles and drivers traveled just over 8 million miles in 2018. The company generated over $500 million in revenue that year.

Over the last two years, federal government data indicates the company's vehicles have been involved in 17 crashes, of which 3 have led to injuries and 1 has resulted in at least one person's death. In fairness, these numbers make no indication of responsibility for any of these incidents, but there's a decent chance that a Columbia driver's negligence caused at least some of them.

One thing that sets Columbia's drivers apart from the vast majority of commercial drivers is their unionized workforce. With only about 2% of the country's driver base currently members of unions, prevailing wages and benefits have largely declined across the board. This means that companies whose drivers are still unionized are at a competitive disadvantage, which may lead them to defend themselves more aggressively in an attempt to control costs.

How Columbia Distributing's Unionized Workforce Could Affect Your Case

While there's no company that will simply roll over and hand significant sums of money to those harmed by its drivers, they can still approach any case against them with varying levels of resistance. And one of the key factors affecting how much of a fight they put up is how much they have to lose.

Most trucking companies operate with fairly narrow profit margins, which means they have to attempt to cut costs wherever they can. Part of the reason they push back against civil claims as aggressively as they do is that the bulk of their costs are outside of their control. This includes the costs of fuel, maintenance, replacing vehicles, and taxes.

One such cost, which Columbia Distributing and the small number of unionized carriers have to bear, is having a unionized driver workforce. While we won't get into the pros and cons of unions in general here, it's indisputable that having their employees unionize creates substantial costs for employers. Between higher pay, pension obligations, and provision of the proverbial "Cadillac" healthcare plans, the expenses of union drivers can be substantial.

We can see how the costs of unionization affect how much room a company has to maneuver by examining the recent bankruptcy of prominent carrier New England Motor Freight. Although a variety of factors contributed to NEMF's loss of viability, news reports also indicate that the union representing its drivers rejected a contract the year before the Chapter 11 filing whose changes to pay structure might have saved the company.

When you've litigated as many tractor-trailer accident cases as we have, you quickly realize that there's no scenario where a truck driver is at fault where a defense attorney can't attempt to shift the blame...

Given all this, suppose that you're part of the management of Columbia Distributing, and you know that your contract with the Teamsters means you face massive costs that you can't do anything about, but you still have to find a way to reduce your expenses in order to maintain profitability. One attractive option is to cut the amount you have to pay out for civil suits related to crashes caused by your drivers.

Unlike taxes, fuel payments, and union-related expenses, companies like Columbia Distributing have plenty of options when it comes to avoiding the expense of civil litigation. When you've litigated as many tractor-trailer accident cases as we have, you quickly realize that there's no scenario in which a truck driver is at fault that doesn't give a skilled defense attorney an opening to shift the blame elsewhere. Whether it's your supposed failure to control speed, the 18-wheeler's "sudden temporary brake failure," or a mystery driver who vanished into the mist before anyone could question them, these defenses don't need to be reasonable to succeed if you aren't able to refute them.

Even if presenting an implausible account of the crash doesn't succeed, a company's defense team has plenty of other options. For example, they might argue that, even if they were responsible for the wreck, the injuries you sustained aren't as bad as you claim because your doctor wasn't qualified to properly diagnose them or they were actually the result of a pre-existing condition, not being struck by a 30-ton tractor-trailer.

These strategies might seem like desperation moves, and they are, but they can still be very effective if there's no one on your side to push back against them. That's why it's so important to get help from an experienced commercial vehicle accident attorney that knows exactly how to defend your interests against these attacks and obtain the evidence needed to prove your case.

Grossman Law Offices Has The Resources and Experience to Take On Columbia Distributing

Unless researching semi-truck accident law is your hobby, you probably hadn't considered how a company's unionized workforce could affect claims against them prior to reading this article. And it's just one of the hundreds of factors that can have significant affects on your ability to obtain fair compensation from a company with plenty of legal resources at their disposal.

At Grossman Law Offices, we aren't scared of any company's defense team, because we've achieved outstanding results for hundreds of clients in 18-wheeler accident cases over the last 30 years. We have experience taking on transportation companies of all sizes, from small operations of a few employees to the largest players in the industry. And we promise we'll never try to keep you in the dark about the progress of your case or the efforts we're making on your behalf.

If you've been injured or lost a loved one in a crash involving a Columbia Distributing vehicle, please call (855) 326-0000 to find out how our attorneys can help you. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to address any concerns you may have and advise you of the best way to proceed.

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