Despite FMCSA report to Congress that decades-old financial responsibility levels don’t adequately cover many truck wrecks, regulators cling to status quo
On June 2, 2017, his Administration through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) made a decision that will leave truckers and trucking companies woefully underinsured, and thus leave them — and truck accident victims — dangerously vulnerable and under-protected in the event of a catastrophic truck wreck.
Specifically, the FMCSA pulled the plug on a rulemaking process whose goal it was to increase truck liability insurance limits to $3.2 million based on a 2014 report to Congress showing that the current minimums, which haven’t been updated since they were set in 1985:
“[D]o not adequately cover catastrophic crashes, mainly because of increased medical costs.”
What does this mean? It means when a trucker causes a catastrophic crash, he and/or his trucking-company may be financially on the hook beca use, at the current legally required insurance minimums, that may not be enough to cover the victim’s losses, medical bills, and pain and suffering if the case goes to trial and a verdict.
For the person who was seriously injured in this same truck accident, it means much of her tort claim for medical bills and economic losses if she can’t return to work, as well as pain and suffering, may never be collectible if there are no assets and the verdict exceeds the truck insurance limits.
Unmoved by this state of affairs, the new FMCSA — which is now only months into President Trump’s time in office — explained it was abandoning previous efforts under the Obama Administration to look into increasing financial responsibility insurance limits for trucks because:
“FMCSA has determined that it has insufficient data or information to support moving forward with a rulemaking proposal, at this time.”
Rather than throw in the towel, the FMCSA — if it was truly concerned about current truck insurance limits being “inadequate to fully cover the costs of some crashes” — would exercise its authority and discretion to go get the information it needs to make the right decision.
Instead, the FMCSA has effectively signaled that raising truck insurance limits — at least while Trump is in office — is never going to happen. The issue is dead. Innocent truck drivers who are injured by others — those President Trump claims to love so much — are left completely vulnerable to the roulette wheel of the insurance limits of the person who causes the wreck. Same with the innocent people on our public roads who are injured or killed in truck accidents.
Inadequate truck insurance limits = putting profits above safety
This is mind-boggling, not just because it’s so irresponsible to truck accident victims, truck drivers and trucking companies.
The reason many of the bigger trucking companies supported raising truck insurance limits was because it rewards those companies that do play by the rules. Higher limits would mean more attention to compliance, and a closer look at the safety of drivers and procedures if only because the insurance companies that would insure these trucking companies would take a closer look during underwriting.
Lower truck insurance limits obviate this need for higher compliance. It facilitates a race to the bottom where the companies that ignore mandatory safety rules can undercut the companies that do follow the rules on bids for jobs because, at the end of the day, safety is an added cost that they do not absorb. It allows the rule breakers that put their own drivers and the public at large in a more advantageous competitive position against the trucking companies that do follow safety rules.
On March 23, 2017, the day that truckers got a one-on-one with the president at the White House, the FMCSA killed its support to revise the “Carrier Safety Fitness Determination,” which determines “when a motor carrier is not fit to operate commercial motor vehicles …”
As an experienced truck accident attorney who has helped hundreds of crash victims — and many injured truckers injured in truck accidents or by passenger cars as well — I find the trend of decisions coming down from the FMCSA to be incredibly disappointing. Politics is “trumping” the FMCSA mission of protecting the public and the people who drive large commercial trucks for a living.
What was the FMCSA’s pre-Trump position on increasing truck insurance limits?
Here are the findings from the FMCSA’s April 2014 “Report to Congress,” entitled “Examining the Appropriateness of the Current Financial Responsibility and Security Requirements for Motor Carriers, Brokers, and Freight Forwarders”:
- “[C]osts for severe and critical injury crashes can easily exceed $1 million.”
- “Current insurance limits do not adequately cover catastrophic crashes, mainly because of increased medical costs. The decreasing real value of the current minimum levels of financial responsibility is effectively removing the function of insurance in covering catastrophic crashes. … [H]ad minimum financial responsibility levels kept pace with … [the] medical CPI [Consumer Price Index], by 2013, these minimum levels would have been significantly higher,” to the tune of “approximately $3.2 million …”
- “The current minimum financial responsibility levels for motor carriers of property, hazardous materials, and passengers were established in the 1980s … When catastrophic and severe/critical injury crashes do occur, the costs of resulting property damage, injuries, and fatalities, can far exceed the minimum levels of financial responsibility. Over the past 29 years, while insurance premiums have declined, the decreasing real value of the current minimum levels has effectively removed the function of insurance in covering catastrophic crashes, as medical and other crash-related costs have increased significantly. … In conclusion, FMCSA has determined that the current financial responsibility minimums are inadequate to fully cover the costs of some crashes in light of increased medical costs and revised value of statistical life estimates.”