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The feud between trial lawyers and truckers

Written by taar Posted June 11th, 2015

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We’ve written in depth about the dire need for trucking companies to raise their insurance liability limits. The current amount is set at $750,000 per truck accident (not individual), a woefully inadequate amount to compensate people for medical costs, economic loss such as wages and future earnings, and pain and suffering losses that haven’t been adjusted for inflation in more than 30 years.

Our Roundtable Co-Founder Michael Leizerman weighed in on the issue in a recent article on Cleveland.com, “Trial lawyers v.s truckers: a feud over trucks, crashes, insurance and devastation.”

In November, the FMSCA responded to a section of a 2012 federal transportation bill passed by Congress and asked the public whether the $750,000 minimum liability insurance for trucks is sufficient. By the close of the comment period on Feb. 26, a whopping 2,157 comments had come in from across the U.S., mostly from truck owners, drivers and attorneys.

As attorneys who concentrate on truck accident litigation, we certainly have “a dog in this fight.” We deal every week with the victims and the families after serious truck injuries or deaths, when these $750,000 insurance policy limits are often extinguished from medical and hospital bills – or when the amount must be split up between accident victims in multiple cars that were all hit by the same tractor-trailer.

This leaves the accident victims, many recovering from the most egregious and preventable truck accidents, with nothing or next-to-nothing for the financial, medical and human losses they’ve suffered. It is painful to explain when a family member has been lost why the family will not be made whole after the negligence of another.

And with higher insurance limits, motor carriers need to do more to prove they’re safe and do not pose imminent risks of harm to the public. It would be more difficult for negligent truck companies to take short-cuts on safety and maintenance in order to effectively undercut the companies that play by the rules.

Yet the trucking industry is more concerned with its bottom line. In the article, one trucking company stated that any increase “beyond the $1 million set by the market will needlessly result in increased premiums and safe motor carriers going out of business.”

But this just isn’t the case. In fact, hyperbole aside, there has been no evidence brought forth to support this. In addition, many of the more responsible trucking companies want to see higher insurance policy limits, too. This weeds out many of the worst and most irresponsible people in the industry, who cut corners on safety and hire unfit drivers in order to unfairly compete on price.

Meanwhile, the trucking industry continues to minimize the number of serious truck accident claims and their costs. As Michael Leizerman told Cleveland.com:

There are about 4,000 truck accident deaths each year. And nearly all of the those deaths will result in claims that exceed the $750,000 limits.

For instance, a catastrophically injured 20-year-old would require $4.4 million for semi-private nursing home care, or $2.4 million for an assisted living facility, if he or she lived a life of expectancy, or until age 77, Michael told the FMCSA, using cost figures from Genworth, a long-term-care insurer.

I must note that the article incorrectly states “Most truck drivers will never cause a devastating crash.” I beg to differ. Between the three co-founding members of the Roundtable, we’ve collectively litigated more than 700 serious and preventable truck accident cases. Many of these crashes were caused by truck drivers who were using drugs and drinking, driving with serious medical conditions, driving over the allotted hours of service, speeding and texting while driving.

To say that most truckers will never cause a crash needs to be modified as follows:

Most safety conscious truck drivers who play by the rules and follow the law will never cause a crash. To say otherwise is just not correct. And it’s insulting to truck accident victims and the families of those who have been killed and seriously injured.

I should note that many truck drivers are great people and great drivers. Many are my own clients, since  truck accidents are often caused by passenger cars, not by the trucker. Truck drivers often come to our attorneys looking for help after they’ve been injured, or when their safety managers are pressuring them to put their lives and the lives of everyone on the road in jeopardy by breaking federal safety laws.

It’s important to keep in mind that a higher truck insurance limit would also protect good truck drivers who are injured by others.  This rule change better protects everyone.

The FMSCA has no deadline for a decision on whether to raise the truck insurance liability limits.

Related info:

Michael Leizerman speaks to FMSCA on raising truck insurance limits

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