Nearly every driver has experienced a dangerously close encounter with a big rig on the highway. The massive size of these tractor-trailers and the speeds at which they travel remind us how quickly a small error can turn deadly. And the potential for both property and physical damage raises the question: How much insurance coverage is required on these trucks?
Under the current federal regulations, the weight of the truck and what it’s carrying are the two important factors in how much insurance they must have. Trucks weighing less than 10,001 pounds are required to maintain a minimum of $300,000 in liability insurance. Trucks weighing over 10,001 pounds must carry $750,000 in liability insurance. Those levels go up to between $1 million and $5 million if hazardous materials are being transported.
This sounds like a lot, but will it cover immediate and future medical costs in case of an accident? In fact, the numbers show that minimum insurance coverage does not fully reimburse victims. When factoring in current and estimated future medical costs in addition to damages for pain and suffering, the numbers fall short. For example, wrecks like this can cost victims:
- $334,892 for a tractor-trailer truck crash in which one person is injured.
- $1.2 million for an injury-causing crash if the truck was pulling two or three trailers.
- $7.2 million for a fatal crash involving any type of truck.
Insurance may not cover all (or even most) of the costs of a typical large truck crash. Depending on the state and its insurance laws plus the levels of the victim’s own coverage, medical bills might be covered up to a certain threshold, usually $10,000 or less. And all claims have to be initiated within two years for personal injury or five years for property damage.
These facts have some serious ramifications for victims, who, if they don’t take legal action, may very well end up with little compensation. Insurance adjusters work for the insurance company, not the victims; their job is to pay out the least amount they can on every claim, often to the detriment of the injured party and their families. Unsurprisingly, a study conducted by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) showed that, on average, payouts were much higher when the injured party retained an attorney. In fact, victims received 40% higher average settlements with the help of legal representation. Plus, 85% of all settlements paid out by insurance companies for bodily injury were awarded to those victims who had an attorney.
This large disparity is easily explained. Victims who attempt to navigate the insurance and legal systems on their own actually harm their chances of getting the money needed to pay their medical bills. Then there is the Illinois principle of comparative negligence, something most individuals will not know much about. Under this principle, fault is apportioned, or split, between two or more parties whose negligence contributed to the accident. For example, if it is determined that the victim was 40% at fault for the accident, all damages awarded are reduced by 40%. Insurance companies are not going to help victims ensure that this percentage is correct or fair; only a personal attorney will do that.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly every category of vehicle crash had fewer deaths last year, with the exception of those involving tractor-trailers. We can’t generally avoid being on the roads with these big rigs, so it is in all drivers’ best interests to understand the coverages and seek help from an experienced accident attorney when needed. It’s the best chance victims of truck accidents have of getting the compensation they need, regardless of the state of the semi’s insurance policy.