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Truck lobby says “jump,” Sen. Daines (R – Montana) asks “how high?”

March 14, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Cowardly politicians in the pockets of truck lobby show ugly side of battle to raise truck insurance limits

Senator Steven Daines

Yesterday, I wrote about the need to increase liability insurance limits for large commercial trucks, and how the victims of serious truck accidents are so often under-compensated for their injuries, economic losses and medical bills. On a related note, I ran across a story about Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reform from Landline Magazine.

The article reported on a FMCSA hearing held by the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and touched on the ugly side of the politics and special interests that oppose raising the insurance limits for commercial trucks.

Notably, the story talks about a debate between Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana).

Booker is advocating for increasing insurance minimums, and referenced the Tracy Morgan crash. Daines, meanwhile, contends that less than 1% of all truck crashes exceed the minimums and “the only ones who will benefit from increasing the insurance amounts are trial lawyers.”

Why is Steve Daines so intentionally ignoring the obvious?

As to increasing these limits only helping the trial lawyers, I’d like to see Sen. Daines tell this face-to-face to some of my clients over the years.

Instead of attacking or bashing trial lawyers, why is Sen. Daines not looking at the 5,000 people killed nearly every year, and the additional tens of thousands of people who are seriously injured and who will never recover what was taken from them?

The 1% statistic Sen. Daines is trumpeting the trucking lobby, courtesy of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). It is intentionally misleading and false logic.

Since most trucks are insured with minimum $750,000 policy limits, and most trucking owner operator companies do not have collectible assets over this amount, of course these cases will settle for the  $750,000 policy limits, even if they don’t begin to cover the economic losses involved in the crash. This applies to most catastrophic truck crashes where the injuries, medical bills, and economic losses will clearly exceed this $750,000  amount.

The only (false) choice a seriously injured person has when this happens is to not take the proffered policy limits and settle, and instead incur additional tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs to take the case to verdict and then get a paper judgment that’s not collectable because the trucking company has no assets. The additional costs of taking the case to trial are also reduced from their settlement recovery – which means the tens of thousands of dollars come directly out of the victim’s recovery. So, of course, these cases settle within the policy limits.

It is one thing to expect lobbyists for special interest groups like the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) to keep repeating this false and misleading “1%” statistic. But it’s especially disheartening to see politicians who are supposed to care about the public good abandoning any pretense of protecting the public when something is so obviously broken, and doing instead whatever a special interest group tells them to do.

Sen. Daines may be a cowardly lion in the pocket of the trucking lobby, but the real question is, are the policy limits that cover these trucks adequate or not?

Three decades ago, the minimums were set at $750,000 and they haven’t been increased or adjusted for inflation since.

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