The value of a semi-truck accident claim is going to depend on a myriad of factors, including how many insurance policies are connected to the commercial rig. In this way, such claims are much different than crashes that involve passenger vehicles. Although it is possible for passenger-style vehicles to be insured by more than one policy or more than one carrier, it’s far more common for there to be multiple insurance companies connected to a tractor-trailer and driver. That’s because the driver may be insured separately from the owner of the trailer who may be insured separately from the owner of the tractor who may be insured separately from the company that owns the goods being hauled.
Sifting through which policies are applicable involves first identifying them all and then carefully combing through the contracts to ascertain how liability payments were structured. We may also need to know research out-of-state laws if the companies involved were based elsewhere, as is often the case. Most commercial truck insurance policies will be much higher than what you will see for passenger-style vehicles. That’s because typically, when these trucks are involved in crashes, the damage is often severe. Although large trucks aren’t involved in as many crashes as passenger vehicles, when they are involved in a crash, losses can be devastating.
In the recent case of Great West Cas. Co. v. Robbins, the question before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was whether the commercial liability policy that covered the lessor and lessee of the trailer part of the truck – a $5 million policy – was available to cover an allegedly negligent driver and her employer, who owned the trailer. The driver and her employer were insured by a separate policy that carried a $1 million bodily injury liability limit.
This was a truck accident wrongful death lawsuit stemming from a horrific crash that killed a 44-year-old man in Indiana in January 2011. The trucker, who according to court records worked for a company called Hoker Trucking, LLC, was cited for failure to yield. Hoker is an Iowa company, and it owned the tractor being driven. The driver, the company and the tractor were insured with a $1 million policy provided by Northland Insurance Company. However, the trailer was being loaned by a Minnesota-based firm called Lakeville Motor Express, Inc., which didn’t actually own the trailer, but had been leasing it from a company called Wren Equipment, also a Minnesota company. Per the agreement between Lakeville and Wren, Lakeville secured a $5 million liability policy from a company called Great West Casualty Co. that covered itself and Wren and the trailer.
Neither the truck driver nor her employer were named insureds under the Great West policy.
Plaintiff, the widow of the man killed in the truck accident, filed a lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of the driver, the driver’s employer and Lakeville, the lessee of the trailer. Lakeville was later dismissed from the lawsuit. The question became whether Great West should have to indemnify – and ultimately be responsible for the negligence of – the driver and her employer. The 7th Circuit, applying Minnesota law, decided: No.
The court found no ambiguity in the policy that might construe it against the insurer. The policy expressly excludes “anyone who has leased, rented or borrowed your auto when it is used in a business other than yours.” Because the truck was not being used to further Lakeville’s business at the time, no coverage was provided.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Great West Cas. Co. v. Robbins, Aug. 16, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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