After an 18 wheeler crash, damages for medical bills, lost wages, disfigurement, pain, and other items can be enormous. Who pays for that? How much is available? What happens if there is not enough insurance to pay all injured people?
Minimum insurance levels required
Federal law has mandated that commercial vehicles which drive from state to state have insurance since the trucking industry began back in 1935.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enforces the law that if the vehicle that drives interstate has a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds, it is required to have $750,000 available. Further, if the truck is carrying hazardous materials, up to five million dollars is required.
Buses and other vehicles that carry 15 passengers or less must have at least one million dollars in coverage; those that carry more than 16 people have to have at least five million dollars in coverage available.
Often companies have multiple policies or higher limits. Many have high deductibles and self-retention amounts.
Note that the required minimum limit of $750,000 has not been increased since the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 was enacted, while medical bills that cost that amount 36 years ago now cost $4.2 million adjusted for inflation. Clearly the minimum figures are inadequate to protect the public.
Why is insurance coverage getting hard for carriers to buy?
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal last week, the interstate trucking carriers say their premiums have dramatically increased because jurors keep handing out “nuclear” verdicts. They blame plaintiffs for filing lawsuits. Some insurance companies are even leaving the market. Trucking companies are driving “bald” (without insurance coverage). The industry is in turmoil.
But if the trucking company and its driver had followed federal law and acted responsibly in the first place, a crash would not have occurred, no one would have been injured or killed, and the company would not found liable.
Either way, without adequate insurance coverage available, trucking companies are increasingly under insured, making court verdicts harder to collect.
I have represented victims of commercial truck collisions for 36 years in North Texas and these crashes are sometimes catastrophic.
For example, I just settled a tragic case where a man died and his passenger was seriously injured when they were rear ended while at a stop on I-35 by a speeding tractor-trailer. Fortunately there was sufficient insurance available.
Victims and their families rely upon these awards to pay for medical care, rehabilitation, lost wages, diminished future earning capacity, expenses related to disability and reduced quality of life. These damages can reach millions of dollars.
How Tracy Morgan’s Crash Helped Change Insurance Coverage Availability
Experts trace the insurance trend to the tragic crash in which a Wal-Mart plowed into a van carrying Tracy Morgan, his close friend James McNair and other friends. Morgan sustained severe head injuries and McNair was killed. McNair’s family settled with Wal-Mart for $10 million and Morgan settled for an undisclosed but presumably similar amount.
I just met the lawyer who handled this case and learned a lot about commercial truck issues at an excellent three day seminar in trucking law in Nashville several weeks ago.
In response to the high damages verdicts and settlements, insurers began dropping coverage for for-hire fleets and raising the prices for all of their commercial clients.
In return, the increasing price and lack of availability of insurance has prompted some trucking companies to reduce their coverage at a time they should be increasing their insurance amounts.
Holding the Trucking Company Accountable
The large verdicts are due to holding the trucking corporation and its driver responsible for needless crashes. It’s the only way to keep us all safe and prevent more horrific crashes like the Tracy Morgan collision.
My law firm only represents people who have been injured by trucks and automobiles. We are here to help you.
Please contact my office if you have any questions about a crash you have been involved in.