18-wheelers and other commercial trucks are dangerous vehicles. If you have ever seen an overturned truck accident on the news, witnessed a truck accident, or were unlucky enough to be involved in one, you understand how terrible truck crashes can be.
Driving a truck is one of the most dangerous jobs in Virginia and across the United States. In fact, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that driving a tractor-trailer topped the list of deadliest jobs in 2018. According to the report, “Driver/sales workers and truck drivers had the most fatalities of any broad occupation group at 966. Among all detailed occupations, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers had the most fatalities at 831.”
Given the danger involved in driving a truck, one would think that truck companies would carry not only high limits of liability insurance, but also high limits of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage to protect their drivers from truck accidents caused by the negligence of uninsured (UM) or underinsured (UIM) drivers. Unfortunately, the truck companies typically carry only minimum levels of UM/UIM insurance.
The importance of UM and UIM coverage
What makes the truck fatality statistics worse is the widespread lack of uninsured or underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) insurance for truckers
While commercial truck companies have minimum liability insurance requirements, which are currently set at $750,000, they are not required to purchase matching UM/UIM coverage. If a company does carry UM/UIM for its drivers, it typically carries the minimum limit required in the state in which the insurance was purchased. Minimum limits generally range from $25,000 to $35,000. What does this mean for a truck driver who is catastrophically injured in a truck crash caused by a negligent automobile driver who has insufficient limits of liability coverage? Assume that the negligent motorist has only $25,000 through State Farm in liability coverage, the injured truck driver’s company has a $25,000 UM/UIM policy through Clear Blue Specialty Insurance and the truck driver has a family auto insurance policy through USAA with $50,000 in UM/UIM coverage. Under Virginia’s UM/UIM statute (Virginia Code §38.2-2206), the total insurance coverage for the trucker’s catastrophic injury claim (including all elements of damages, e.g., medical bills, income loss, the permanent nature of the injuries, pain and suffering, and the long-term effects on the trucker’s life) would be $50,000. The UIM coverage between the truck company’s and the truck driver’s policies are stacked to total $75,000, but the policy covering the vehicle the truck driver occupied (i.e., the trucking company’s $25,000 State Farm policy) gets a credit for the amount of the liability insurance. State Farm would wind up paying zero in this scenario.
Legislation has focused exclusively on liability coverage
Recently, lawmakers attempted to pass the Moving Forward Act, which would raise the minimum liability coverage requirement on most commercial trucks from $750,000 to $2 million, to be adjusted every five years for inflation. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “It depends upon how frequently the higher cost events occur, relative to the frequency of the lower value.” As of this writing, no changes have been made to any liability limits. The Act does nothing to address the fact that trucking companies are hanging their drivers out to dry by carrying the minimum limits of UM/UIM coverage. Truckers need to lobby for mandatory matching liability and UM/UIM coverage.
What you can do now
If you are an owner/operator, buy high limits of UM/UIM coverage with your truck liability insurance policy. If you drive for someone else, make sure to carry high limits of UM/UIM on your personal automobile insurance policy. In many states, your personal UM/UIM can be stacked on top of the UM/UIM policy covering your truck. Given the nature of truck wrecks, we recommend carrying at least $1 million in UM/UIM to protect yourself and your family. Make sure you also have high levels of medical payments or personal injury protection coverage and income loss coverage. Talk to your insurance agent about the optional coverages available in your state. The premiums for these coverages are usually low. It is important to remember that no matter how safe you are behind the wheel, you cannot protect yourself from reckless or dangerous drivers sharing the road. Having a strong UM/UIM policy in place can ensure you and your loved ones are financially safe in the event of an accident.
At Phelan Petty, our Richmond injury attorneys are here to answer any question you have after being involved in an accident. We can also help you go over your insurance policy to ensure you are compensated properly. To set up a free case consultation, give us a call today at 804-980-7100 or use our contact form to leave us a message.