How the Tracy Morgan Crash Raises Questions about what Insurance Liability Limits are Adequate for Big Trucks, and Hours of Service Regulations
As you have almost certainly heard by now, Tracy Morgan – comic icon of “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” fame – was nearly killed on Sunday when the limo bus he was riding in on the New Jersey turnpike was rear-ended by a Georgia trucker driving a Walmart tractor-trailer. Because of his celebrity, Tracy Morgan is making most of the headline news stories, but the deadly truck accident also left 1 person dead and 3 others seriously injured.
It is certainly tragic. It also thrusts for a few brief moments into the media spotlight and the attention of the American public some very serious issues that result in several thousand Americans being killed every single year.
I wonder – will the truck-limo bus crash that has critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan finally be the tragedy among hundreds of other tragedies every year that finally grabs the public’s and lawmakers attention spans, and provides the support needed to make roadways safer for everyone?
The Tracy Morgan truck crash that injured Mr. Morgan and took the life of another raises two important issues. If these two issues can be appropriately addressed after this latest crash, it will help provide adequate compensation to future victims of truck accidents and their families, and help prevent future deadly crashes from ever occurring:
- Insurance limits.
- Hours-of-service regulations.
Insurance Limits – No More Russian Roulette Depending on the Limits of the Truck
Imagine for a moment if the truck that killed one and seriously injured three, including Mr. Morgan, was not a Walmart truck. Imagine instead if this truck was insured with the same insurance limits as most of the trucks we see on the road today.
That would mean there would be $750,000 in insurance policy limits, to be divided among the family of one person who was killed and three injured. This $750,000 would be all there was to pay for all the medical bills, all of the economic loss if Tracy Morgan can never work again, and for the pain and suffering of all involved.
Here, the truck that injured Mr. Morgan was a Walmart truck and, thus, likely covered by multiple layers of insurance and appropriate insurance limits. But the important issue of what is an appropriate liability policy limit for trucks is currently raging in Washington D.C.
In late May, the FMCSA began meeting to work on a plan to raise the minimum amount of liability insurance (the insurance that pays when a truck injures or kills someone else) that is required of carriers and trucking companies.
As I wrote in a recent blog post:
“The announcement of this committee comes on the heels of a recently released FMCSA report, which concluded that the $750,000 insurance requirements were simply too low. The current $750,000 requirement was set all the way back in 1985, and has not kept up with inflation.”
But the proposal is under attack. Just today, the House of Representatives will vote on amendments to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Bill Fiscal Year 2015, wherein Congressman Daines (R-MT) is offering a terrible anti-safety amendment that seeks to block any increase in the minimum $750,000 insurance requirements for trucks.
As an attorney who has a huge sub-specialty of litigating these cases, I know firsthand how undercompensated so many seriously injured victims of truck accidents are because of these minimum limits. Tracy Morgan’s injury and the terrible truck crash that killed one and injured 3 others, came just a couple days before Congressman Daines would make the $750,000 liability limits permanent.
This leaves thousands of accident victims undercompensated. Tracy Morgan may have gotten lucky in one crazy respect – the truck driver who fell asleep and hurt him had more than $750,000.
Thousands of others are not so lucky.
Hours-Of-Service – Just One Week Before There Was Talk Of Repealing Rest Requirements
As I write this, reports are that the truck driver of the Walmart truck may not have slept for at least 24 hours prior to the crash.
Whether that’s true and accurate will no doubt be borne out by the truck crash investigation conducted by the New Jersey State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board.
All the same, the crash brings attention to our attention just how many truckers are driving on our roads while seriously impaired by fatigue. It raises the important issue of the federal hours-of-service regulations and whether truckers are getting enough rest before they climb behind the wheel of these 80,000 lb trucks.
Ironically, approximately a week before this crash, there had been talk about repealing the FMCSA’s new hours-of-service regulations that were enacted in 2013, which, among other things, limited truckers’ work weeks to 70 hours so as to “reduce truck driver fatigue and improve safety for every traveler on our highways and roads.”
To read more, please check out Michigan Auto Law’s blog post, “New hours-of-service rules for truck drivers”:
Fatigue, and truckers driving over the hours of service plays a role in many of the cases that I investigate as an attorney in this area. In some cases, I’ve found two sets of log books. One is for the police and safety inspectors if the trucker is pulled over. This first set of logs is often called “lie books.” The second is the real set that the driver keeps so he or she will be compensated for the extra time and miles. Hours of service plays a huge role in so many horrific truck accident injury cases today, and again, the timing of Mr. Morgan’s tragic accident sheds an ironic light on efforts by the trucking lobby to loosen safety restrictions.
Our hearts and sympathy go out to Mr. McNair’s family and we wish a speedy and full recovery for Mr. Morgan and the other injured passengers.