How Accident Claims Work Against Independent Truck Drivers

  • Not all independent truck drivers are owner-operators, and that distinction can determine what insurance coverage is available for your legal claim and how the accident is investigated.
  • If you’re an owner-operator driving under your own DOT authority, you’re required to carry insurance that meets federal regulations.
  • If you’re an independent contractor driving under a carrier’s DOT authority, you’re covered by the carrier’s insurance policy.
  • Although independent truck drivers can’t be fired for causing an accident, they could lose their commercial driver’s license depending on the circumstances of the crash. According to the American Trucking Association, the number of independent truck drivers has been increasing in recent years as the industry has grown more competitive. In fact, of the 3.5 million truckers in the U.S., one in nine are independent and a majority of those are owner-operators. That means if you’re hurt in a truck accident in Georgia, there’s a good chance it will involve an independent truck driver.

Not All Independent Truck Drivers Are Owner-Operators

Full length view of early 30s Caucasian man in casual attire and reflective vest preparing to depart in delivery vehicle with headlights on at night.
Full length view of early 30s Caucasian man in casual attire and reflective vest preparing to depart in delivery vehicle with headlights on at night.

All independent truck drivers work as contractors, which means they are not legally employed by any one carrier and must set up contracts to deliver goods. Using independent truckers instead of employees can help carriers reduce the costs associated with maintaining a large fleet of trucks, and being independent allows truckers more flexibility and control over their own loads, fees, and schedules.

Keep in mind, however, that not all independent truck contractors are owner-operators, and that distinction can be important if you need to file an injury claim for a truck accident. For example, some drivers choose to buy or lease their vehicles from a third party and operate under a carrier’s DOT authority and insurance policy, which means they are not full-fledged business owners. Others are owner-operators who are responsible for all aspects of running their own company, including insurance, operating authority, regulation compliance, taxes, equipment expenses, etc.

If you’re an owner-operator, you get to keep 100 percent of the revenue generated by each load, whereas independent truckers working under another company’s operating authority will almost always have a cut taken out of their earnings. For example, many independent truck drivers operate under CloudTrucks’ Virtual Carrier Plan and pay an 18 percent service fee on all brokerage loads in return for the company covering their operating authority, insurance, taxes, bookings, registrations, compliance, payment collection, and more.

If you’re injured because of an independent truck driver’s negligence, this distinction can determine what insurance coverage is available for your legal claim and how the accident is investigated.

What Type of Policy Coverage is Required for Independent Truck Drivers?

The insurance required for independent truck drivers goes far beyond what is typically covered by a standard auto insurance policy. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has specific insurance policy requirements for a trucking company to be granted operating authority.

For a commercial vehicle carrying freight, the company’s liability insurance policy must provide $750,000 to $5,000,000 in coverage depending on the type of commodities transported. For nonhazardous freight moving only in vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds, the minimum policy limit is $300,000. The FMCSA also requires companies to provide $5,000 per vehicle and $10,000 per occurrence in cargo insurance.

If you’re an owner-operator driving under your own DOT authority, you’re required to carry insurance that meets FMCSA standards. Liability insurance covers you for property damage and injuries you may cause in a vehicle accident, while cargo insurance protects you from having to take a loss if something happens to the load you’re carrying (e.g., stolen goods, wet load, refrigeration breakdown, debris removal).

Owner-operators also carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage as well as general comprehensive and non-trucking liability insurance for vehicle repairs and other costs. Unlike large trucking companies that self-insure their fleet of trucks, owner-operators are typically insured by outside insurance carriers. Many companies that offer auto insurance, such as Progressive and Travelers, also offer commercial truck policies to owner-operators.

If you’re an independent truck driver who is not an owner-operator, you operate under a carrier’s DOT authority and insurance plan. For example, if you drive under Cloudtrucks’ Virtual Carrier Plan, Cloudtrucks provides the coverage required by FMCSA regulations, which includes general, auto, and cargo liability insurance. Even if you’re covered by a carrier’s plan, however, you may still need your own policy for occupational, physical damage, and non-trucking liability.

How are Independent Trucker Accidents Investigated?

The way truck accidents are investigated often depends on how the driver is insured. If the accident was caused by the truck driver’s negligence or a vehicle problem, the injured victim may have a legal claim against the driver. When it comes to commercial vehicle accidents, however, the victim may have a claim against the trucking company as well.

In fact, in many Georgia truck accident cases, victims can sue the trucking carrier’s insurance company in a direct action. If the trucking company is self-insured, that means you sue the trucking company directly. Because truck accidents tend to be more complex and costly than a typical car crash, the stakes are high for companies trying to protect their bottom line.

As a result, large trucking companies deploy a team of in-house specialists—crash investigators, attorneys, insurance adjusters, and/or safety directors—immediately after an accident. Having truck accident experts at the crash scene allows companies to quickly investigate and collect crucial evidence that may otherwise be overlooked or lost. That means large companies often have an advantage over claimants when defending a truck accident claim.

Independent truck drivers, however, are not self-insured, so they don’t have a team to send when they’re involved in an accident. Instead, they must rely on their insurance company to protect them. If they drive under the operating authority of a company such as Cloudtrucks, that company’s insurance adjusters and attorneys will handle the claim.

If they are owner-operators with their own insurance policy, their insurance carrier will investigate and defend the claim. Because an outside insurance carrier covers many policy holders, it is less likely to conduct an investigation that is as fast and thorough as an in-house team that focuses on only one trucking company.

Keep in mind that even though independent truckers may not have the same resources as a large company, time is of the essence when it comes to any truck accident investigation. If you’ve been injured in a truck accident, you need to have an experienced attorney investigate and collect evidence as soon as possible to build a strong case.

Can Independent Truckers Lose Their Job Because of an Accident?

Because independent truck drivers are contractors rather than company employees—meaning, they work for themselves—they can’t be fired when they cause an accident. However, depending on the circumstances of the accident, they could lose their commercial driver’s license, which is required by law to operate a commercial vehicle.

If the truck driver was not at fault for the crash, the accident will remain on their record, but they will likely be allowed to continue driving professionally. If the accident was caused by the trucker’s clear negligence or involved DUI, excessive speeding, or hit-and-run, the trucker could lose their commercial license. Sometimes a trucker may have their commercial license suspended for a certain period rather than revoked entirely.

Call The Millar Law Firm for a Free Consultation

If you were injured in an accident caused by an independent truck driver, 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.

- D. Lo
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