Should Trucking Insurance Liability Be Raised By Millions?

05/12/2015 // EW Truck Wreck Lawyers // (press release)

Should Trucking Insurance Liability Be Raised By Millions? Some Say Change 30 Years Overdue

A four-vehicle interstate crash in Leon County, Texas that claimed the life of a 41-year-old mother last month was a case that hit close to home for Houston based personal injury attorney Jonathan Harris. Rare in regards to other cases he has taken on, the tragic turn of events involved several members of a family he had known prior.

The family of Demetria Tubbs was traveling from a high school basketball game when the chain reaction collision occurred. The crash involved an 18-wheeler that reports say struck the passenger vehicles from the rear, after the drivers were forced to break in front of them.

Harris, who is with the Eberstein & Witherite law firm, now represents 8 of the 11 people involved in the accident. Says Harris, “it affects multiple generations in this one family. Everyone had such catastrophic injuries from this accident. I wanted to help in any way that I could.” Help for the family may come in more ways than one.

In addition to providing representation for the victims, Harris says he is backing a measure that could help those who have been severely injured in commercial vehicle accidents receive more of the full compensation they have been awarded by courts.

In accordance with current law, the minimum insurance liability requirement is $750,000 for commercial vehicle carriers, an amount that does not cover the entirety of awards in cases that exceed that amount. According to Harris, “as it stands the liability of insurance companies is very limited. For cases involving compensation for 18-wheeler accidents involving multimillion-dollar verdicts, paying the excess becomes of burden of someone who typically just cannot afford it.” This becomes a problem for victims whose only source of getting the long-term medical care they need is a well calculated payout.

The uniqueness of cases like that of the Tubbs’ family could help illustrate the need for a raise in the trucking liability minimum. Because the fatal crash involved multiple members of the same family who witnessed their loved ones being killed or injured, some are eligible to pursue compensation under a bystander claim for mental anguish. This also includes two students who were not physically injured, but were riding on school buses traveling nearby and in close enough proximity to the scene of the accident to witness all that occurred. However, in spite of whatever damages victims in cases like these may be eligible for, liability minimums may render pursuing the totality of possible damages a moot point if insurance companies are not required to pay the full amount of jury awards.

Controversial legislation that could force truck drivers to carry millions more in liability insurance coverage is currently being reviewed by Congress. The Safe and Fair Environment on Highways Achieved through Underwriting Levels Act (H.R. 2730) or “A SAFE HAUL” was introduced by U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright in 2013, and has been referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. If it passes, it will mark a change that some, including Harris say is decades overdue. The current minimum was established in the 1980s. A new minimum of $4.4 million would be the equivalent of the total cost of medical care today Cartwright outlined in a press release.

The effort by Cartwright, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and others to increase the minimum has sparked heavy debate between many within the trucking industry who suggest that only a small percentage of claims actually exceed the limits and transportation advocates who say otherwise.

Cartwright has said of the measure, “This is a matter of public safety.  Tragically, more than 100,000 people have been killed in commercial vehicle collisions since 1980… This legislation is essential to protecting our nation’s highways and ensuring that victims receive the proper amount of compensation for their losses.”

Former American Association for Justice President Mary Alice McLarty is also quoted by CDL Life News as stating of the bill, “Outdated trucking insurance limits shift the burden of crash costs to injured motorists, taxpayers, medical insurance carriers, and Medicare. This legislation is long overdue.”

If the bill does pass, future minimum requirements would also be tied to medical care inflation costs.

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Lucy Tiseo

Eberstein Witherite LLP

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