Like any other vehicle, a van may be considered “commercial” when it is titled or registered to a company and/or used for business purposes.
While some passenger vans or heavy-duty cargo vans meet the definition of “commercial vehicles” under federal or state law, many commercial vans used by businesses do not and thus are not subject to special regulation.
Georgia law requires that all vehicles have insurance coverage, but if you operate a van that is legally classified as a commercial vehicle, you will need to have a far greater amount of coverage than is required under a regular auto insurance policy.
If a business doesn’t have a commercial vehicle insurance policy, or the policy doesn’t fully cover accident costs, the injured victim can sue the business to recover the remaining amount.
Fueled by a rise in online shopping and disruptions to supply chains, the number of delivery and cargo vans on Atlanta area roadways has sharply increased. All sorts of businesses—both big and small—use commercial vans to meet their transportation needs, from a plumber carrying tools and parts to job sites to a high-volume delivery company carrying packages all over the city.
If you’re injured in an accident caused by a commercial van, seeking compensation can be more complicated than in a typical car collision. Depending on the circumstances, you may have a claim against the business as well as the at-fault driver, and you may need to file a lawsuit if the business lacks commercial vehicle insurance coverage.
What is a Commercial Van?
Like any other vehicle, a van may be considered “commercial” when it is titled or registered to a company and/or used for business purposes. Typically, a commercial van transports goods or paying passengers.
A cargo van is similar to a passenger van in that the cab and cargo area is connected, but cargo vans usually have large rear doors that allow for easier loading and unloading. Cargo vans can vary in terms of length and payload capacity, and businesses use larger cargo vans to transport heavy materials, make more deliveries, and keep up with a high order volume. Some of the most common types of businesses using cargo vans include plumbers, movers, florists, electricians, landscapers, and package delivery companies (e.g., Amazon, FedEx).
While any van used for a business purpose may be considered a commercial vehicle, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has a narrower definition. According to the FMCSA, a commercial vehicle is one that is driven or towed on a highway in interstate commerce, transports goods or provides services, and meets one of the following criteria:
Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 lbs. or more, whichever is greater,
Is designed or used to transport at least nine people (including the driver) for compensation
Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers—with or without compensation
Is designed or used to transport hazardous materials as defined in the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act
If a van falls within the FMCSA definition of a commercial vehicle, it is subject to extensive federal regulations, including registration, permits, driver qualifications, hours of service requirements, vehicle maintenance, financial responsibility, and safety standards.
If the van is only used in intrastate commerce (i.e., only in Georgia) and isn’t used to transport hazardous substances, federal regulations don’t apply. However, Georgia law requires commercial vehicle registration and licensing for any vehicle that weighs 10,001 lbs. or more; is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including driver); or is used to transport hazardous materials.
While some passenger vans or heavy-duty cargo vans fit federal and/or state criteria, many commercial vans used by businesses do not and thus are not subject to special regulation.
Driver’s License Requirements for Commercial Vans in Georgia
In Georgia, the type of driver’s license you’re legally required to have while operating a commercial van depends on the vehicle. If the van meets the federal or state definition of a commercial vehicle, then its driver must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
To obtain a CDL, the driver must pass a skills and knowledge test, have a driving history that meets safety standards, and have a medical screening. Those operating under a CDL are held to a higher standard when driving on public roads, and serious traffic violations or negligence can affect their ability to maintain CDL certification. If a driver without CDL certification causes an accident while operating a commercial vehicle, the company may be held liable and subject to penalties under federal or state law.
If the van does not meet federal or state criteria, however, anyone with a regular (i.e., noncommercial) Georgia driver’s license is allowed to operate it—even if it’s used for business purposes. But even though they’re not legally required, some businesses still insist on using drivers with CDL certification as a matter of company policy. That way, the company has more protection against liability if the driver causes an accident—and many insurance carriers require that drivers have CDL certification to be covered under commercial vehicle insurance policies.
Are Businesses Liable for Accidents Caused by Employees?
In some businesses, the owner is the only one who drives the van. But in other businesses, the company owns one or more vans, and its employees operate them on the roads. Under the legal theory of “vicarious liability,” the employer can be held liable when an employee’s negligence causes another person to be injured. This rule applies whether the injured party is another driver, a pedestrian, or a passenger in the van being operated by the employee. In certain situations, the employee may also be liable.
Whether the business can be held liable for the actions of its employee while driving is not always straightforward. Generally, any time someone is performing any duties related to work, the person is considered “on the job”—even if they are also doing personal business or driving a personal car.
If the driver who caused the accident was working as an independent contractor at the time, the company that hired them may not be legally responsible (as an employer would be). To determine whether the company can be held responsible, the court would consider factors such as whether the vehicle was registered and licensed in the company’s name, whether the contractor had their own insurance coverage, and what type of control the company had over the contractor’s work and schedule.
Ways a Business Can Be Directly Responsible for a Van Accident
Employee negligence is not the only way a business can be held liable for a commercial van accident. The company may be directly responsible for causing the accident because of improper maintenance of the van (e.g., faulty brakes or worn-out tires), insecure cargo, or the hiring and retention of unqualified/unsafe drivers.
If the van fits the FMCSA definition of a commercial vehicle, regulations require that drivers follow mandatory rest periods and companies keep logs documenting drivers’ hours. Drivers must also pass medical screenings and have CDL certification. Violations of federal or state laws governing commercial vehicles can help prove that a company acted negligently in a civil case.
In many Georgia commercial van accident cases, the victim may be able to sue the company directly. If the company itself was negligent—not just vicariously liable—it is responsible for the damages it caused even if the costs are beyond the scope of its vehicle insurance policy.
How Auto Insurance Coverage Works in Commercial Van Accidents
Georgia requires that all vehicles have a certain amount of liability insurance coverage to operate on public roads. But if you operate a van that is legally classified as a commercial vehicle, you will need to have a far greater amount of coverage than is required under a regular auto insurance policy.
Under FMCSA regulations, a liability insurance policy covering a commercial vehicle carrying freight must provide $750,000 to $5,000,000 in coverage depending on the type of commodities transported. Commercial vehicles designed to transport 16 or more passengers must carry $5,000,000 in coverage; those transporting 15 or fewer passengers must carry $1,500,000. The FMCSA also requires $5,000 per vehicle and $10,000 per occurrence in cargo insurance.
If your van is considered a commercial vehicle under Georgia law, you are required to carry liability insurance with at least $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. If your vehicle carries more than 12 passengers, the minimum requirements are $100,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. Georgia law also requires $25,000 per vehicle and $50,000 per accident in cargo insurance coverage.
If your van doesn’t meet either the federal or state criteria for a commercial vehicle, you’re not legally required to have more than the minimum amount of auto insurance coverage, which is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in bodily injury liability and $25,000 per accident in property damage liability.
To save money on premiums, some small businesses choose to forego commercial vehicle insurance and only insure their cargo vans with personal auto insurance. However, insurance companies consider any van a commercial vehicle if it’s used for business purposes, and a personal auto policy wouldn’t fully cover the costs of an accident in most situations.
The reason is simple: accidents involving commercial vehicles are more complex and can be much more expensive than a typical car accident. In a car accident case, the at-fault driver’s policy must cover bodily injury and property damage liability, but in a collision involving a larger vehicle carrying cargo, those costs are often much higher.
In addition, a business owner must have coverage for medical expenses for the driver and passengers (regardless of who is at fault), worker’s compensation, employer’s liability, employment practices liability, business interruption, and commercial property damage to be fully protected. A business should also be covered for things that can happen outside of vehicle collisions, such as lost or damaged cargo, loading accidents, or damages from vandalism, theft, or fire.
When Commercial Van Accident Costs Are Above Policy Limits
In a costly commercial van accident with severe injuries or multiple victims, the damages may exceed the coverage limit on the company’s insurance policy. If the insurance policy doesn’t fully cover your losses, you or your attorney can file a lawsuit against the business to recover the remaining costs, and the business would have to use revenue or assets to pay the judgment.
When the company is a sole proprietorship, as many small businesses are, that means you can go after the business and personal assets of the owner to satisfy a legal judgment. Not having enough insurance coverage or having the wrong type of coverage (i.e., personal auto coverage versus commercial vehicle coverage) for your commercial van can be financially devastating for an owner who is sued for an accident.
Our Law Firm Can Help
If you were injured in a commercial van accident, you should talk to an experienced attorney about your case. Our lawyers go to work immediately to investigate the accident and help you recover the full value of your claim. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.