It’s no secret: Florida has one of the highest uninsured motorist rates of any state in the nation, with more than a quarter of its drivers out on the road uninsured. This means that if you’re involved in an accident here, there is a one in four chance that the other driver doesn’t have insurance. With odds like that, it’s no wonder that many Orlando drivers choose to purchase an uninsured motorist policy to avoid paying for medical expenses out-of-pocket should an accident occur.
However, what happens if you’re involved in an accident with a commercial truck that is not insured? Is it even legal for tractor-trailers to be operational without insurance? Read on for more information, and contact an experienced truck accident attorney to discuss your legal options if you’ve been in an accident that was caused by a negligent truck driver.
Laws Requiring Truckers to Carry Insurance
To operate commercial trucks in the United States, all trucking companies must purchase insurance for their vehicles. This includes the following minimum policies:
- $300,000 in public liability insurance for non-hazardous freight moved in trucks weighing up to 10,000 pounds.
- $750,000 – $5,000,000 in public liability insurance for tractor-trailers, with the minimum amount dependent on the type of freight the trucks are transporting. Higher limits are required for hazardous materials. Most shippers require the motor carrier to have a policy of at least $1,000,000.
- Cargo insurance for trucks transporting household goods, with minimum limits of $5,000 per vehicle and $10,000 per occurrence.
The insurance policies must be on file with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and they may be filed by the insurance carrier or by a financial institution that holds a lien on the truck. Trucks that are subject to a lien by a financial institution are often required to carry more insurance to protect the bank’s interest in the vehicle.
Truck drivers may be operating as their own small motor carrier business, in which case they are responsible for meeting all of the FMCSA regulations on their own. They may also be employed by a trucking company, in which case they are driving a truck owned and insured by that company. Truck drivers can also operate as independent contractors who lease their trucks through the trucking company, accept jobs as assigned by that company, and are insured through the company’s policy.
While public liability and cargo insurance are the only policies required under FMCSA’s operating authority, several optional add-on insurance policies can provide truckers with greater protections, including:
- Non-trucking liability insurance, also known as “deadhead coverage” or “bobtail liability.” This policy provides coverage against accidents that happen when the driver is not transporting goods, such as when they are traveling home after delivering a load.
- Non-owned trailer coverage. If the truck driver is pulling a trailer that belongs to someone else, they may want to have this type of coverage.
- Excess liability. This provides liability coverage over and above the initial public liability policy.
- Personal injury protection. To register a vehicle in Florida, drivers or trucking companies are required to purchase a no-fault PIP policy of at least $10,000 to provide medical payments and lost wages for the insured, regardless of who was at fault in the accident.
Driving without insurance in Florida is illegal, regardless of the type of vehicle you’re driving, as long as it has four wheels. The penalty for a first offense is the suspension of your license and registration for up to three years and a $150 reinstatement fee. For subsequent offenses, the reinstatement fee increases. Drivers who obtain their commercial driver’s license may face revocation of that license, effectively taking away their ability to continue working as a driver until or unless their license is returned.
While the above-mentioned insurance policies are either required or recommended, the truth is that some trucking companies choose not to keep insurance policies on their trucks. This is very unhelpful for those injured in accidents caused by drivers of uninsured vehicles, but there may still be compensation available to you through other sources, including your own insurance policies and other liable parties.
If you registered your vehicle in Florida, you also are required to obtain a personal injury protection policy of at least $10,000 to cover a portion of your medical expenses and lost wages if you are injured in an accident. If your accident involved an uninsured commercial truck, you can still access this policy whether you were driving your own car, or you were a pedestrian, a bicyclist, or a passenger in someone else’s car.
These policies are required by state law to provide the following coverage:
- 80 percent of all reasonable medically necessary medical, surgical, x-ray, dental, and rehabilitative services up to the limit of the policy. Among the medically necessary services included in this benefit are ambulance transport, emergency department services, and hospitalization.
- A $5,000 death benefit for the funeral expenses of the insured and anyone else named on the policy.
- 60 percent of any loss of gross income or loss of earning capacity resulting from accident-related injuries, up to the limit of the policy.
Unfortunately, most accident victims—particularly those involved in an accident with a big-rig truck—reach the limit of their PIP policy quickly. This is where other insurance comes in.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Motorists in Florida are not required to purchase an uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM) policy, although many choose to do so. This type of coverage provides compensation in accidents where the at-fault driver had no insurance or their policy limit is not enough to cover the medical or property damage expenses of those who were injured. UM coverage is added on to your own auto insurance policy and covers you, your household family members, and passengers in your car.
Some of the expenses that UM policies pay for include:
- Medical bills;
- Lost wages and permanent disability;
- Assistive devices such as wheelchairs or accessibility features in your home;
- Long-term nursing home care;
- Payment for household services that the injured person used to perform but now must hire someone else to do, such as lawn care or laundry;
- Emotional and physical pain and suffering; and
- Lost enjoyment of life.
In Florida, you may not purchase a policy with a limit higher than the bodily injury liability limit that you selected.
Your Own Health Insurance Policy
Unlike UM coverage, your own health insurance policy won’t pay for damages such as pain and suffering or lost enjoyment of life. Your policy also will not cover the medical expenses of injured passengers in your vehicle unless they’re relatives who are named on the policy. However, if necessary, you can use your own health insurance policy to pay for injuries sustained in a car accident, regardless of fault. You may use funds from your PIP policy to cover your health insurance deductible.
Other Sources of Liability
Your attorney may look for other people or entities that may have insurance resources that you can access to compensate you for your injuries and losses. In trucking accidents, other insured entities are often involved.
Some of these additional sources of liability may include:
- The motor carrier that employed or contracted with the truck driver. Whether the driver is an employee or an independent contractor, the motor carrier that hires the driver is required to have insurance as a part of their operating authority. Even if the driver was expected to maintain their own insurance and did not, the carrier likely does have insurance, as shippers are responsible for ensuring that the truck is fully insured before allowing a motor carrier to transport their cargo.
- The shipper. As stated above, the shipper is responsible for checking to make sure that the motor carrier that transports its goods is insured. Failure to do so can make the shipper liable for the accident.
- The individual or entity tasked with performing maintenance and repair on the truck. Federal regulations state that carriers must provide a regular maintenance schedule for their vehicles. The individual or entity performing maintenance service may be found liable if they missed something during maintenance or repair, and that mistake was a contributing factor in the accident.
- The manufacturer or distributor of parts used on the truck, if an issue with one of those parts contributed to the accident. Vehicle parts manufacturers and distributors are required to ensure those parts are safe for the consumer when used according to label instructions. Marketing faulty products may mean they bear some liability for an accident resulting from a parts failure.
- Other drivers. Not every accident is as simple as one vehicle colliding with another. Often, another driver’s negligence may contribute to an accident. For example, if a passenger car driver drifted into the travel lane occupied by the truck and the truck swerved to avoid a collision and struck another vehicle, the driver of the first vehicle may bear some liability for the accident. Another example would be in a multi-car pileup involving several vehicles where a driver other than the one who was driving the truck may be at fault.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim
If your accident-related expenses exceed the limit of your PIP policy or your injuries reach the state’s serious injury threshold, you may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit against the truck driver and/or other liable parties. The serious injury threshold in Florida is surpassed by any injury that meets one or more of the following criteria:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement;
- Significant and permanent scarring and disfigurement; or
Florida allows victims to file personal injury lawsuits within four years of the date the injury occurred. To achieve a successful outcome in your lawsuit, you must establish that the accident that caused your injuries was the result of someone else’s failure to exercise their duty of care. In a truck accident case, the driver’s duty of care would be something to the effect of operating the vehicle safely and lawfully.
For the motor carrier, the duty of care may involve providing proper training or conducting a meaningful background check on their driver that would have revealed an extensive history of traffic infractions. For the shipper, the duty of care would likely be to ensure that the driver tasked with transporting their goods was properly trained, licensed, and insured.
In Florida, accident victims are allowed to claim both economic and non-economic damages from at-fault parties. Examples of economic damages in a personal injury case include items such as:
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages and loss of earning capacity;
- Missed business opportunities (for an accident victim who is self-employed); and/or
- Property damage to your car.
Examples of non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress;
- Loss of companionship or consortium (this damage is generally for the injured person’s spouse due to the loss of physical intimacy resulting from severe injuries); and/or
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
In some cases, where the driver’s behavior was particularly egregious, the plaintiff in a personal injury case may also seek punitive damages, which are designed to “punish” the defendant and prevent them from repeating the same dangerous behavior. Punitive damages are relatively rare in truck accidents, but your attorney can let you know if they may be an option based on the facts of your case.
Accidents involving commercial trucks are very serious situations. Likewise, accidents involving uninsured motorists are also very serious. An experienced truck accident attorney can provide you with answers to your legal questions and can explore your options with you.
Orlando, FL 32814