FMCSA Should Require Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist Coverage for Truck Drivers
Trucking has inherent dangers, both for other motorists hit by big trucks and for truck drivers who are underpaid and underinsured for their labor in one of the most dangerous of occupations. More truckers and delivery men, die on the job than any other vocation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The current proposal to adjust trucking liability insurance requirements for three decades of inflation should be expanded to include mandatory uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage to protect truck drivers, many of whom are independent contractors who lack even the most basic workers compensation protection.
I have represented numerous truck drivers over the years who themselves have been seriously injured in crashes for which they often have had little or no insurance protection. They work hard to take care of their families, and most of them are very safety conscious.
Many of them have been employed as “independent contractors” for motor carriers, lacking decent medical insurance, workers compensation or uninsured motorist coverage.
Some have been seriously injured by a drunk or drugged driver of a passenger vehicle causing a catastrophic crash. One was a gasoline truck driver badly injured when a teenager who had been drinking and smoking marijuana hit him in the fuel tank, causing him to jackknife on a rain slick freeway. Fortunately, the rain may have helped prevent a deadly explosion. Another was a truck driver who had a bad back injury when an SUV towing a motorcycle trailer lost control right in front of him on an Atlanta area freeway.
The current minimum liability insurance requirements for interstate commercial trucks and buses have been in place unchanged since 1985. The insurance level for general freight trucking has been $750,000 since 1980, and for all other categories of interstate truck and bus operations have stayed the same since 1985. There has been a tremendous amount of medical inflation since then.
A couple of months ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) recommended adjusting the minimum coverages for three decades of inflation, just to catch up on the loss of purchasing power of the insurance amounts. The categories are as follows:
Minimum Insurance Since 1985
Recommended Adjustment for Medical Inflation
|General Freight (unchanged since 1980)||
|Low hazardous (fuel, etc.)||
|Small Buses (up to 15 passengers)||
|Hazardous materials& large buses (16+ passengers)||
The stiffest opposition to this inflation adjustment appears to come from the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, an insurance company presenting itself as a trade association representing small trucking operators. One hypothesis is that OOIDA Insurance Company sells only minimum limits $750,000 trucking policies and may have insufficient reserves to be competitive in the market for larger policies.
But the interests of individual truck drivers of leased trucks, working under the authority of motor carriers without having motor carrier authority themselves, may diverge from the interests of OOIDA Insurance Company.
Those drivers, concerned about the security of their own families, might see the advantage of having mandatory UM / UIM coverage equal to liability limits for protection of themselves and their families.
Uninsured / underinsured motorist insurance coverage provides protection for a person injured due to the negligence of another driver who has inadequate liability insurance. The minimum liability coverage for passenger cars and small private trucks varies from state to state, but those minimums generally range from $15,000 to $30,000. In Georgia, the minimum is $25,000. That is a drop in the bucket if you have a serious injury, have huge medical bills and are unable to work for any significant period of time. It is practically nothing if you don’t have medical insurance or workers compensation.
In addition, there are many drivers on the roads who operate with no liability insurance at all – 28% in Mississippi, 26% in New Mexico, 24% in Tennessee, Florida and Oklahoma, 22% in Alabama, 19% in Michigan, 18% in Kentucky and Rhode Island, 16% in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas and Washington.
I have always assumed that if some idiot causes serious harm to me, a member of my family or a friend riding with us, he will have minimum or no liability coverage. That is why for decades I have carried the high levels liability and UM / UIM coverage on my family vehicles, with umbrella policies up to $2 million. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
If leased drivers in one of the most dangerous occupations had UM / UIM had the benefit of UM / UIM coverages equal to the proposed minimum liability coverages for the trucks they drive, it would be an enormous benefit for their peace of mind and the security of their families.
Ken Shigley is a past president of the State Bar of Georgia and currently chair-elect of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Practice & Procedure, he is a certified civil trial attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. His law practice is based in Atlanta, GA.