Most of us know that when a passenger car collides with a commercial truck, the impact is usually severe and often results in life-long injuries, even death. When the truck driver or the trucking company carries inadequate insurance coverage to pay for the property damage and personal injury claims that arise (or, worse, is uninsured), this has an equally severe impact on the victim.
Thirty years ago, the minimum insurance requirements under laws governing truck and bus companies was set at $750,000. Adjusted for inflation, the amount of coverage in today’s dollars should be approximately $4.4 million. Does $750,000 in coverage seem like a lot to you? What if I told you that today, medical bills alone (in most states) will likely exceed those limits in a severe impact car-semi-truck collision? And, what if the accident is fatal? Is your loved one’s life worth more than $750,000 in that circumstance? You would be pleased if today’s policy limits are adjusted for inflation and are required to be at $4.4 Million. Wouldn’t you? Well, prepare to be disappointed. The minimum policy limits for semi’s and buses today are exactly the same as they were 30 years ago. Absurd, isn’t it?
Trucking industry advocates contend that only one percent of commercial trucking accidents cause personal injuries and property damage in amounts that exceed the $750,000 minimum coverage requirements. They whine that increasing the minimum liability insurance would pose an undue burden on motor carriers. Tell that to someone who lost their bread-winning spouse or father in a collision with a negligent trucker. Tell that to someone who is paralyzed for life in a similar collision. We constantly hear about the cost of doing business. Tort liability is “bad for business”; don’t you know? Well…let the businessman or politician walk a mile in a victim’s shoes and the tune suddenly changes.
Michigan is the only state in the union that has an unlimited medical pay PIP law. The Republican legislature (why does Michigan vote Democratic in national elections but Republican in state elections?) has been making noise about capping these unlimited medical benefits. One of the most vocal critics of this proposed change is a Republican, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. Why? Because he was involved in a serious automobile accident and found out, first hand, about the economic impact that a serious accident can have on its victim. He is one of the few Republicans in America who does not ‘drink the pro-business Kool-Aid” when it comes to tort liability restrictions.
Back to our $750,000 trucking insurance limits situation: After the insurance company for the trucking company pays out its $750,000 under the policy, what’s next for the victim? Many trucking companies that operate with the minimum insurance limits have little to no assets and few victims have enough underinsured motorist coverage to make up the difference (my readers should take note and buy as much of this valuable coverage as their insurance company allows. If your insurance company does not permit you to purchase more than $100,000 in uninsured or underinsured coverage, find another company!) If the plaintiff pursues the company and driver in court, many defendants file bankruptcy. So who pays the difference, you ask? The victim goes on public assistance; the taxpayers pay his/her medical bills and lifetime medical care through programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The Republican Party, the “personal responsibility” party, the “strict adherence to the constitution” party, the “hands off our rights”, the “lower our taxes” party supports these pro-business atrocities, why?
To put it in perspective, here is a real case example.
A minivan was stopped at a red light on a snowy day in January 2009, when a tractor-trailer skidded and slammed into the van, catapulting it almost 50 feet. A ten-year-old girl in the van was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh as a level one trauma patient. It was later determined that the truck driver was not only driving too fast for wintry conditions, but had never driven in snow before. The young girl’s lifetime care plan was estimated over $9 million. This young girl and her family will never receive full recovery, despite receiving the policy limit of $1 million.
After being tasked with studying the situation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) concluded that current minimum financial responsibility limits are inadequate. The study found that although relatively rare, catastrophic motor carrier crashes resulting in injury, death and/or damages can easily exceed $1 million. The FMCSA said the minimum insurance level should not only be increased immediately to compensate for 30 years of medical care cost inflation, but reassessed on a yearly basis to ensure that it is fulfilling its intention. Doing (says the FMCSA) so would bring back the economic incentives for trucking companies to embrace safety.
The FMCSA presented its findings to Congress last spring; it was greeted in the House with typical, Republican, pro-business, anti-victim (citizen) response. The House voted an increase down. Why? Here’s Rep. Steve Daines, R-Montana: “Raising the limits would saddle bus and truck companies and small businesses with higher costs…Small businesses that make up the majority of the truck and bus industries not only provide jobs for thousands of Americans, they play an important role in moving goods and people and supporting our economy. It flies in the face of common sense to put people’s livelihoods at risk without any evidence that it would improve the safety of our roads or better meet the needs of catastrophic accident victims.” Is he kidding me?
Trucking companies with inadequate insurance are putting people’s lives at risk. Increasing insurance limits would not only increase safety, but cause insurance companies to take a much closer look at the companies they insure. This alone would deter trucking companies from cutting safety corners in exchange for a bigger profits. If not being safe cut into their profits, you can bet that they would all embrace safety, quickly.
Although this topic will continue to be discussed and a resolution will not be in the near future, your voice can be heard, and now is the time. The FMCSA plans to go back to Congress to further substantiate its position and is asking for help. In an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), the FMCSA presented 26 questions for which it seeks public comments by February 26, 2015. People may voice their concerns on issues such as: what would be the impact of increasing the minimum insurance level? What is the current minimum for financial responsibility, premium rates, and more? Comments can be submitted by clicking on this link: http://saferhighways-oneclickpolitics.nationbuilder.com/lawyers. Follow the outline provided on the webpage. Type your comments in the box that says “Please share your personal message here.” Share this message with everyone you know and ask them to do the same. Most of us travel public highways with tractor-trailers and commercial trucks,. If you are like most of us, this may be the most important task you do this week. Stand up for safety on our roads. Tell Congress that unsafe roads are bad for business, bad for taxpayers, bad for America. Remember, the deadline is February 26, 2015.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.