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What liability insurance levels is the FMSCA considering for commercial trucks?

September 11, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

It’s time we do a better job of protecting truck accident victims

Insurance liability limits for commercial motor carriers haven’t been adjusted for inflation in 35 years, but the FMSCA is putting feelers out on a new number.

Currently, the FMCSA only requires motor carriers to maintain insurance up to $750,000 per truck accident. This is a stunningly low amount that’s woefully inadequate to care for truck accident victims with catastrophic injures — or the families of those who were tragically killed. To put that number in perspective, many of our clients have incurred $750,000 in medical bills within a month of being involved in a serious injury accident.

As I’ve said before in advocating for higher truck insurance limits — to help prevent serious wrecks at the hands of trucking companies that cut public safety for a bigger bottom line — these very low insurance limits fail to give insurance companies incentives to undergo a thorough assessment of the motor carriers they insure. This is because their own liability and exposure is capped at $750,000. So all dangerous truck companies have to do after they’ve caused a terrible wreck is pay their insurance policy limits, close for business, and then immediately re-open for business under a new name. These “chameleon carriers” then go on to cause more of the same crashes.

Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) turned an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on minimum insurance levels into a survey of trucking and insurance industry practices. Unfortunately, the notice gave few clues as to what new levels of insurance coverage FMCSA might be considering.

Instead, the notice asked carriers and brokers to voluntarily answer questions about their current premiums and about how rates are determined — perhaps by things such as driver safety records, credit histories, or whether carriers get discounts for the volume of vehicles in their fleets, according to a story in Transport Topics, “FMCSA Asks Trucking Fleets for Information About Insurance Rates, Coverage Levels.”

The FMCSA also asked: “What percentage of fleets, based on size and the type of operation of the carrier [passenger, property, hazmat] already have liability coverage that exceeds the minimum financial responsibility requirement and by how much?”

The FMCSA did not say in its notice what coverage levels it’s considering but cited studies, one from the Volpe Transportation Systems Center in 2013, that said severe crashes usually result in more than $1 million in damages.

Here’s more information on why I’m in support of raising truck insurance limits.

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