Filing an Insurance Claim After a Florida Truck Accident
If you’ve ever been in an accident with a truck, semi-truck, or eighteen-wheeler, you know how drastically such accidents can differ from traditional motor vehicle or motorcycle accidents. If you’re rear-ended by another sedan, sometimes the worst of the damage is to your bumper’s paint. If you’re rear-ended by a large truck, however, even if it is moving at the same speed as a sedan, the sheer weight and dominance of such a commercial motor vehicle will send shockwaves through your car and, in turn, your body, causing more serious injuries than you might suffer in a traditional car accident. This is true for most truck accidents and nearly 100,000 people are killed or injured as a result of large truck crashes each year. Accordingly, Florida law in conjunction with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires truck owners to carry liability insurance policies that far exceed those maintained by non-commercial drivers.
Florida Commercial Motor Vehicle Insurance Requirements
Under Florida law, operators of motor vehicles are required to carry liability insurance with a minimum limit of $10,000. As many drivers only carry state insurance minimums, if you are injured in an accident with another driver, you may only be able to recover a maximum of $10,000 from the insurance company. However, the commercial trucking industry is governed by a different set of insurance requirements, as truckers spend a much greater amount of time on the road and are required to operate large vehicles with blind spots, irregular weight differentials, and potentially hazardous cargo.
The minimum liability insurance requirements for most commercial vehicles are dependent on the registered vehicle’s weight and can range from $50,000 to $750,000. However, many commercial trucking companies will carry insurance policies well in excess of the state minimums, as they wish to avoid getting sued personally for your injuries. If, however, a truck is carrying “hazardous materials,” Florida law requires the trucking company carry a minimum of $5,000,000 in property and personal injury liability insurance. This is because if a truck carrying registered hazardous (or HAZMAT) materials is in an accident and the accident causes a leak, those materials can impact more than those on the road. They can leak into the water supply, cause an explosion, pollute the air, and cause major property damage. This means that the truck driver, owner, employer, and insurance company are liable to all those they injured, not just other drivers. Accordingly, the higher the risk of operating the commercial motor vehicle, i.e., considering the weight and materials being carried, the higher the minimum Florida insurance requirements.
Steps for Making a Florida Truck Insurance Claim
If you were injured in a Florida truck accident, making a claim with a commercial insurance policy is not all that different from making a claim with a traditional motor vehicle policy. Typically, with the help of your attorney, you will take the following steps:
- File a claim with your own insurance company both to initiate liability determinations and take advantage of your no-fault benefits;
- File a claim with the liable insurance company, i.e., the truck owner’s insurance;
- Begin medical treatment, if necessary, as injuries that do not meet certain disability and permanency thresholds may not be compensated by the liability carrier;
- Gather evidence related to your claim including the police report, photographs, and witnesses statements;
- Prepare your medical records and claims information for review by the insurance adjusters to determine whether the claim can be settled out of court; and
- If the claim cannot be settled, your attorney will likely have to file a case for personal injuries.
In traditional commercial motor vehicle cases, if your injuries are serious enough and liability is clear, the commercial motor vehicle insurance company will normally make you an offer to settle the case within its policy limits. If, however, the seriousness of your injuries is not immediately clear, the insurance company may challenge you under Florida law, which sets a medical “threshold” for personal injury recovery. There are four categorizations of injuries in Florida that meet the “threshold” standard that would allow you to seek compensation after a truck accident:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability;
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, and
Whether your injuries meet threshold will generally be determined by expert medical testimony as presented by your personal injury attorney during litigation.
The Role of the Insurance Company
Unfortunately, it is important to remember that an insurance company is not the real defendant in the case. The company did not cause your injuries; it is merely contracted with the truck owner to provide a certain amount of liability coverage. This means that if the cost of your injuries exceeds the insurance policy limits, the company will only offer you the full policy. Any additional compensation for your injuries would have to come directly from the truck driver, truck owner, or trucking company. For example, if the truck driver carried $500,000 worth of liability insurance and you were paralyzed as the result of a truck accident, you could be looking at $1,000,000 a year in expenses for the next 20 years. The insurance company, however, is only contractually liable to cover up to $500,000 in damages, meaning you would have to litigate for additional compensation from the negligent driver, his employer, or the truck owner.
Contact a St. Petersburg Personal Injury and Truck Accident Attorney Today
When you are dealing with potentially high limit commercial vehicle insurance policies, you do not want to go at the insurance process alone. A Clearwater personal injury attorney can help you through the process by filling the proper paperwork, gathering and submitting your medical records, and negotiating a settlement on your behalf. Further, there is normally no charge for these services, as personal injury attorneys are only reimbursed from the money that they fight to earn you! The Dolman Law Group is your premier personal injury law firm in the greater Tampa Bay area, and their experienced and understanding truck accident attorneys are here to fight for you. Contact their St. Petersburg office today at 727-451-6900 for a free, no-risk consultation about your truck accident.