Video: The Pennington Law Difference

In this episode we sit down with Mike Thomas of Pennington Law’s Tallahassee office. We discuss Pennington Law and a bit about what makes them qualified to represent transportation companies and insurance companies.

Video Transcript

John Davis: All right, today I am interviewing Mike Thomas with Pennington Law Firm in Tallahassee, Florida, and we’re going to talk a little bit about trucking defense and some best practices with trucking. I wanted to start off a little bit just tell us a little bit about Pennington. Do you have some offices around the state of Florida?

Mike Thomas: We do. Our primary office is in Tallahassee where we have about 25 to 30 lawyers. We also have two lobbyists there in our branch in Tallahassee. We also have a location in Tampa, seven or eight lawyers down there. Also a office in Miami where we’ve got, I believe, two lawyers down there.

John Davis: Okay, great. And your firm does insurance defense type work, is that correct?

Mike Thomas: Primarily, we like to describe ourself as a full-service firm. Having said that, we primarily do insurance defense type of work, we don’t do any criminal defense, white collar defense, anything like that. No white collar criminal, no criminal defense actually at all. It’s all primarily general civil litigation with … Actually, now we’ve got a family law lawyer as well. So it’s administrative, it’s civil litigation, it’s regulatory, it’s, again, full service certainly.

John Davis: Okay. In the past we have talked about some of the things that are going on in the trucking world as a … does with litigation and defending trucking companies, and working with their insurance companies, and those kind of things. And, you know, there are some hot topics right now and some of those, you know, ELDs are really big right now, the electronic logging devices. I’m seeing some interesting cases come down the pike on some of these things about …

John Davis: You know, I was talking to a Miami client recently and they had a case where a truck was in the right lane, going down the interstate. It was within the speed limit, the driver was not on his phone, wasn’t doing anything wrong, and another car ran into them. And the interesting thing that happened with the trial, the plaintiff’s attorney was to get in the electronic log device and see that the truck driver was speeding about 30 minutes before. What happened is they were able to get that into evidence and the trucking company actually lost. That insurance company lost that case because of that evidence.

John Davis: So one of the things I wanted to ask you about is so you’re defending that case and you’re representing the insurance company for that trucking company. What are some of the things you would do to try to eliminate that, because the electronic log device, they have a whole bunch of different things they’re looking at?

Mike Thomas: Right. Well, I think one of the first things I would do is move in limine, file a motion in limine to prevent that testimony ever seeing the light of the courthouse. And why is that? It’s just not relevant in my eyes, and in order to preserve certain things on appeal, you’re going to have to file the appropriate motions. So what I would do before trial, months before trial, maybe early on in the litigation process, once I appreciated this information was out there and the plaintiffs were trying to use it against my insurance company, my trucking company, I would immediately move in limine to exclude that evidence from trial, and ultimately have a hearing on it. And if the judge granted the motion it would be excluded and I would win. If the judge excludes it, he or she already has it … If the judge denies my motion and that testimony is admissible, they at least have a heads up going forward before trial as to why I don’t think it should be admissible or certainly considered at court or during a trial.

Mike Thomas: At trial, again, to preserve that I would object based on relevance. And, if at that point in time, the judge denies it again, I can appeal the denial of my motion of limine and the trial denial as well. So I’ve got two grounds, if you will, that have been preserved with respect to that issue. And my argument in that case would be, where does this end?

Mike Thomas: Can I also say the plaintiff is the cause of this accident? Or is comparatively negligent because of let’s look at what he or she did 30 minutes before. If they had taken a different route or had been going slower or faster. Maybe they could have avoided this accident, Your Honor, does that make sense that we should bring that up and do we also look at what happened, where my driver was 45 minutes, an hour before? Maybe he was going slower than the speed limit, maybe it’s a wash. I would do whatever I could, in short, to move in limine to exclude that testimony if it was denied at trial. Make a contemporaneous objection and if the trial went bad you’ve got an appellate issue built in and I would like my argument on the relevance of that issue.

John Davis: So that’s a very interesting point there. This issue is more of an evidence issue versus the driver driving the truck did anything wrong or the relevance of the driver being in that spot. So it all has to do with the evidence versus facts.

Mike Thomas: 100% accurate. The facts are what they are. It’s the lawyer’s job to convey to the judge as to why that is not relevant.

John Davis: But that is the importance of the defense lawyer is to know that and to go after the evidence versus the fact that this other attorney said, “Well, they were speeding 30 minutes before.”

Mike Thomas: And that’s why it’s important early on to file this motion of limine to put the court on notice. And they may hold that in abeyance, they may say, “Well, it’s a little early, but thanks for giving me a heads up. I’m not going to rule on that motion.” And then at trial when that information is elicited you object to it and have a sidebar and say, “Your Honor, remember my motion of limine, you held that in abeyance. This is what I’m talking about, it can’t be relevant what my driver was doing 30 minutes before with respect to speed.”

John Davis: And you made a whole point there, too, is well, what was the other driver doing 30 minutes before?

Mike Thomas: Right. Should that be relevant?

John Davis: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Thomas: They could have avoided this had they’d only woken up 30 minutes earlier.

John Davis: Right, or didn’t stop at Starbucks or whatever, you know? They just … I see what you’re saying. So in that case that I heard about, it was interesting that that’s what happened. So it’s an evidence thing.

Mike Thomas: And look, we try a lot of cases and you’re going to get different judges and they’re not all going to rule the same way on these issues related to relevance. That’s why it’s important to preserve the record, so you can appeal something. You may not know that … If you don’t object to that at trial, you’ve waived that on appeal. So if you don’t make the appropriate objection at trial, you’ve waived it. That’s why I kept saying, “Do the motion of limine first and then object at trial.” And then, you can even object again before the jury gets the case. The fact is you’re preserving the record for appeal. If you don’t do that, you’ve waived it.

John Davis: Right, right.

 

Filed under: Insurance, Legal

Case Study: Bus Crash

What Happened

I received a telephone call from a motorcoach company today and the owner advised that they had had a multi-bus collision over the weekend. He advised that he had already reported it to his insurance company and his insurance agent. He wanted to know what I would recommend doing after this accident.

 

All of the buses involved in the accident were owned by this company and they were driven by company drivers as a shuttle service. All the buses were following each other; the accident occurred because the first driver had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting another vehicle and this resulted in the other three buses rear ending each other. There was damage to all vehicles. The owner stated that his insurance company had asked how many passengers were on each of the buses. Since this was a shuttle service, there was not an accurate count of the number of passengers on each bus.

 

What to Do Now

There are a couple of lessons we can learn from this situation. First, when you have multiple vehicles following each other on a trip, it is a good idea to leave enough space between each vehicle, so there is not a possibility of a multi-vehicle collision. Second, even though they were operating a shuttle, the drivers could have kept a headcount. Using a simple counting device as passengers enter the vehicle can help your insurance company know how many potential claims they are facing.

 

We also discussed the importance of maintaining evidence. Remember, the goal after an accident is to “freeze time.” You don’t want to have a claim for spoliation of evidence on top of all the other claims. I advised the owner to make sure that he makes a complete copy of the driver files and maintenance files. He advised that he had his drivers complete a drug and alcohol test immediately after the accident and that was the right thing to do. I also suggested that he tell his drivers to be prepared to have their phone records reviewed and their social media accounts reviewed. More than likely, this type of accident will involve some type of attorney and they generally review that type of information.

 

I also suggested that the owner talk to all of the drivers and make sure that they only speak to the insurance company representative. I further recommended that the drivers should notify the owner immediately if anyone tries to contact them about the accident and for the owner to verify that the contact is from his insurance company. You don’t want to have your drivers giving a recorded statement to someone other than your insurance company. It’s also a good idea to advise your drivers in this type of situation to cooperate with your insurance company’s investigation.

 

Lessons Learned

Remember, to avoid these types of accidents don’t follow too close. Try to maintain some type a headcount on each vehicle to help your insurance company understand how many potential claims they may have. Maintain records that are pertinent to the investigation and cooperate with your insurance company’s investigation.

Filed under: Case Studies, Transportation Companies

SEO Isn’t Magic

 

Here’s something most marketing folks don’t want you to know:

SEO isn’t magic. There is no button to press to put you at the top of search results. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not worth your time, or your money.

 

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the amount and quality of user traffic to your website through organic search engine results. The goal of SEO is that when someone does a web search for a service or product that you provide, your company is at the top of the list. Think of the last time you searched online for a product or service. Perhaps you searched for an electrician nearby. When you type in “electrician near me,” the search engine provides you with the most relevant results it can find. For example, the top results may include the electrician around the block from you, a handyman service that does electrical work, and a rating site like Yelp or Angie’s List. These results are designed to help you find what you are looking for. Chances are, you are not going to see an electrical company that started business last week or the utility company that services your home; these results have been deemed irrelevant to your search and are omitted.

 

So how does the search engine know which results to show? That’s where SEO comes in. These results are based on several variables including distance from your search, user reviews, and relevance. For the purposes of this article, we are going to forget about location data since this information is collected automatically based on your published business address. That leaves user reviews and relevance as the determining factors for your search engine results.

 

User Reviews

When your company is providing goods or services, the feedback from your customers is crucial. Were they satisfied with your product? Did they have a hard time reaching you to resolve a complaint? This feedback from actual customers in the form of internet reviews can drastically impact your company’s performance online. If your company has no reviews, or mostly negative reviews, a search engine most likely will not give you first preference. Instead, the search engine will present a competitor with higher ratings, since other people have recommended that service or product.

What You Can Do

Ask your customers for their feedback! Ask for a review on Google, Amazon, Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, or whatever platform is relevant to your industry. If you receive positive feedback, great! If you receive negative feedback, reach out to the customer. Can you make it right and win them back? Often a negative review can turn into a positive review by simply addressing the concern and making it right for the customer. Do your best to get feedback from as many customers as you can, as often as you can. Remember, one bad review out of two can sting, but one bad review out of 100 isn’t nearly as bad!

 

Relevance

Why do we need to worry about relevance? Of course we’re relevant, we sell the product!

Not so fast. In today’s age, it takes about ten minutes to create a new website and list a product for sale. Search engines are looking for the products that other people are looking for, on websites that receive regular traffic from many users. When you search online for a book, which appears first ­–­­– a link for the book on Amazon, or a link to the local bookstore down the street? Typically, Amazon would be the first result (or even the first page of results!). That’s because the search engine recognizes Amazon as a major source of internet traffic, with plenty of links to and from other websites.

What You Can Do

Start with content. Posting regular content in the form of a blog, video, podcast, product how-to, etc. is a great reason for current and new customers to visit your website on a regular basis. Better yet, you can use social media to promote and link to your new content, creating inbound links to your site. As you create more content, search engines will have more relevant content to look through and your rankings will improve over time.

You can also drive people to your content and your website using a regularly scheduled email newsletter. We prefer MailChimp, but there are many different options available to you. Start by asking your customers for their email addresses so they can stay up to date on your company and your services. As you post new content, send out a newsletter with a brief description and a link to the content on your website. Most email newsletter services will provide you with analytics about who opened your message and what links they clicked. You can then use this information to see what types of content are most important to your customers.

 

Now wait! I received a sales call saying they could make me the number one result on Google!

Most of the time in marketing if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Chances are, the strategy from these companies is to place your website link on a bunch of other websites. Since all these other websites are now linking to you, your search ranking should go up, right? While the inbound linking can certainly help, it is no replacement for a solid content strategy and positive customer reviews.

It’s also important to note that a good content strategy and obtaining user reviews doesn’t cost you anything. How much did that sales caller want to charge you for results that aren’t guaranteed?

Filed under: Marketing

Report All Claims Within 24 Hours

[Problem]

The conditions of your automobile liability insurance policy state that you should report all claims in a timely manner. So, what does that mean? Should you report claims when you get all the information? Report them when you feel like it? No, you should report any claim the same day it occurs and no later than 24 hours from the time of the accident. Late reporting of claims is something that your insurance company tracks in their reporting system. If you are trying to obtain new insurance or renewing insurance and there is late reporting of previous claims, the insurance company may hold that against you when evaluating your company. The insurance company equates late reporting to increased claim costs. Don’t put yourself in this situation. Remember, you want your company to be in the best position to obtain the best insurance rates.

 

[Solution]

So, what should you do to train your employees to report claims timely? To start, have a written post-accident policy stating that all claims should be reported to management the same day an accident occurs. Any claim reported more than 24 hours late will result in disciplinary action. Be sure to have your employees sign and date this policy. Having a reminder of this policy in your accident kit may help them remember to report claims timely.

 

You should train your employees to obtain contact information of the other party involved in the accident and any witnesses. This should include names, telephone numbers, and email addresses of all potential parties of the claim. This is critical information for the claim and generally the hardest to obtain. The simple solution is to provide blank index cards in every accident kit. That way, your employee can quickly hand those to any potential witnesses and ask them to put their names, telephone numbers, and addresses directly on the cards.

 

After your employee has obtained witness information, they should write a personal statement of what happened and send it to management within 24-hours. This statement should include the weather conditions, location, law enforcement contact, statements made by the adverse party, and the mechanics of what happened.

 

Once you receive the information, do not delay in reporting the claim to your insurance company. You should always have the insurance company’s contact information handy. Additionally, you should report the claim to your insurance agent, since they may be able to assist you with investigation and reporting.

Filed under: Insurance, Transportation Companies

Why Do I Need A Website?

“I have a Facebook page, why do I need a website?”

We get this question all the time from clients, especially from those that have little or no staff. They’ve taken the time and effort to build a Facebook page and build a following, so why on earth would they need to spend the time and money on a website?

 

Here’s the bottom line: YOUR WEBSITE = YOUR KINGDOM

 

The social media platforms control every aspect of THEIR product.

THEY dictate the color scheme.
THEY dictate what you can or cannot say/sell/do on THEIR platform.
THEY dictate how you appear and how often you appear to your potential customers.

 

Why are you letting social media dictate how you interact with YOUR customers?

 

Having a website that is mobile-friendly, secure, and interactive allows YOU to control how the customer interacts with YOUR business.
YOUR message, YOUR rules.

Social media can be a valuable tool. But it will always be a tool built by someone else, with their best interests in mind.

 

Isn’t it time you had a tool with YOUR best interests in mind?

Filed under: Marketing, Small Business, Transportation Companies

Transportation Companies – Your Insurance Company is Watching You

One of your largest business operating costs is insurance premiums. Commercial insurance is just plain…expensive! We understand that and we want to assist you with keeping those costs as minimal as possible. A well designed and up-to-date website can help.

Your insurance company is looking at certain things to determine what type of business you are and how insurable you are. Here are the top three things they look at:

  1. Loss History. How many accidents/incidents has your company reported in the last few years? They look at the severity and frequency of those accidents.
  2. CSA SMS Scores. Are your scores within acceptable levels? Do you have alerts? Is your MCS-150 report up-to-date?
  3. Your Company Website. Does your site have clear information about your company’s capabilities? Is the site up-to-date? Does your site have driver hiring capabilities? Do you promote safety on your site?

Transport Studios specializes in transportation company websites. We tailor our sites to help you provide the best information for your customers, drivers, and your insurance company. We have built in forms for accident reporting (optional), driver hiring forms (optional), and easy tools to assist you with keeping your site up-to-date. Transport Studios is here to help design or update your website today!

Filed under: Transportation Companies

Case Study: Is Your Web Designer Responsive?

One of our customers, Tally’s Panhandle Detail, called us yesterday and needed their business address changed on their website. He needed it done as soon as possible since his business had moved to a new location the day before. We were able to immediately update the website. Transport Studios understands that your business website needs changes and updates in a timely manner, and we treat your website like it was our own!

While updating the physical address for Tally’s Panhandle Detail website, we also noticed that the client’s Google Business information did not have the new address, so we changed it, too. To ensure that our client did not miss any customers, we checked his social media accounts and advised him to update his address there as well.

If your web designer is not proactive and responsive to your needs, it is time to make the change to Transport Studios. We make your business a priority and strive to update our customers’ websites as quickly as possible. After all, time is money and we know you are counting on us!

As a side note, if you are in the Tallahassee area, we encourage you to give Tally’s Panhandle Detail a try. They do an excellent job detailing vehicles and will make yours look great, too!

Filed under: Case Studies, Small Business