What's the Big Deal About Trucking Accidents?

What’s The Big Deal About Trucking Accident Cases?

The big deal about trucking accidents is just that: they are big. Big trucks. Big collisions. Big injuries. Big insurance policies to pay deserving plaintiffs.

All of this is dictated by the reality of the sheer size of commercial motor vehicles, but also by the federal government. The federal government regulates many things, including virtually all aspects of the tractor trailer industry: safety standards for driver hiring and fleet maintenance, allowable vehicle weight (typically not in excess of 80,000 pounds) and yes, minimum liability insurance coverage for motor carriers, typically $750,000 for personal injuries sustained in any trucking accident.

One thing the federal government does not regulate is the amount of liability insurance carried by an ordinary driver in his or her ordinary car. The minimum amount of private insurance for the operator of a car is dictated by state rather than federal law. In South Carolina, that amount is set by statute, S.C. Code Section 38-77-140: $25,000/$50,000/$25,000, which is the shorthand for: $25,000 for an accident involving personal injury to one person, $50,000 for an accident involving injury to more than one person, and $25,000 for property damage to the other vehicle.

Think about that: federal law requires tractor-trailers, semis, cement mixers, log trucks and other large vehicles that fall within the definition of “commercial motor vehicle” to carrythirty times the amount of liability coverage that South Carolina requires you to carry for your personal vehicle. If you are hurt in an automobile accident, it is likely that the other driver will have only $25,000 to pay your claim; a trucking company who causes personal injury to you in a wreck will have at least $750,000. Excellent reasons support this added protection for the public in the unfortunate event of a collision with a tractor trailer.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data shows that 80,000 Americans were injured in large truck crashes in 2010, with 3,675 people killed. Shockingly, both of these numbers were nearly 10% higher than in 2009.

Although commercial vehicles accounted for only 4% of the total vehicles on the roadway, they accounted for twice that number, 8%, of the total vehicles involved in fatal collisions. Perhaps most disturbingly, while fatal collisions involving only passenger vehicles frequenlty involve only the driver of that vehicle (a driver falls asleep at the wheel and hits a light pole, a drunk driver runs off the road, etc), in the truck wreck scenario, the fatalities almost always involve the tractor trailer getting a second vehicle involved: 83% of the time. Similarly, drivers of large trucks involved in fatal accidents were more likely to have speeding convictions than were their private driver counterparts.

What this shows–and, frankly, what a host of other government and private research data demonstrates–is that the federal government’s regulation of the transportation industry is necessary, justified…and insufficient. By their size, and by the economic and profit realities of the business, commercial trucks pose a profound threat to the motoring public. While Traywick & Traywick is pleased to know that trucking companies always will have at least $750,000 to pay claims to its clients–frequently more: $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 policies are common for larger carriers–we know that the wrongful death and catastrophic injury that these vehicles inflict frequently leave claimants without full and just compensation.


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