Drive down any interstate and it is hard to miss the tractor-trailer trucks hauling freight. Semis are the primary method of moving goods across the country. Truck drivers spend many lonely miles hauling across the asphalt trails crisscrossing our nation. But 18-wheelers pose hazards to the cars and minivans that travel the roads with them. Semi trucks jackknifing and causing multi-car accidents happen frequently. And when people are injured, they seek help paying their medical bills. Trucking companies have insurance, so the insurance pays for everything. Not quite. The minimum insurance required for trucking companies by the federal government has not kept pace with the rising costs of medical care and jury awards.
Federal Regulations Require Insurance
Once a tractor-trailer truck crosses a border between states, it is participating in interstate commerce and is regulated by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is in charge of overseeing motor carriers to assure adherence to federal regulations about the maximum number of hours a driver can be on the road, to hauling capacity limitations. The FMCSA is also responsible for assuring insurance coverage. If a trucking company or independent trucker does not have the minimum levels of insurance coverage, they are prohibited from operating a truck on U.S. roads. Insurance coverage must be continuous as opposed to a short-term policy for each individual haul. Short-term policies can be used when a trucking company is transferring from one insurance carrier to another in order to satisfy the continuous coverage requirement.
Are Minimum Insurance Levels Enough?
Just because trucking companies are required to have insurance to cover accidents does not mean the coverage is sufficient. A tractor-trailer engine weighs over 10,000 pounds by itself. Add a trailer loaded with goods and the weight becomes 60,000, 70,000 and even 80,000 pounds. Considering that the average sedan is between 3,000 to 3,500 pounds and the average minivan is between 4,000 to 4,500 pounds, the difference between passenger vehicles and tractor-trailer trucks is huge. If 80,000 pounds runs into or runs over a passenger vehicle, there is no competition which vehicle would suffer the greater damage. And the passengers in the sedan or minivan would suffer extensive injuries. These injuries would require intense medical care to start with and prolonged rehabilitative care as well. Considering the costs of today’s medical care, that can translate into many 100,000’s of dollars, into the $1 million range. And yet the federal government only requires trucking companies who transport non-hazardous items to have $750,000 worth of coverage.
This coverage amount may sound like a lot, but when one looks at the how much the trucking companies are paying out of pocket beyond that $750,000, it does not look to be enough. The Trucking Alliance, a coalition of trucking companies, reviewed 8,692 accidents and the settlements paid out between 2005 and 2011. They found that 42 percent of the total settlements are being paid by the trucking companies themselves and not the insurance companies. This means the minimum federal insurance level is not enough to cover the potential liability. In the current surface transportation bill, Congress has mandated that the DOT evaluate the adequacy of the minimum insurance level, which has been in place since 1985.
Insurance is in place to recoup losses due to accidents. If there is not enough insurance, then the injured person can be left without the means to fully recover. If you have been in an accident with a tractor-trailer truck or any other vehicle, contact our knowledgeable attorneys to help protect your rights.