It happens. You can’t avoid every traffic accident. Even the most professional truck driver is bound to get hit at some point because of the extensive time spent on the road. Statistics show most accidents involving commercial trucks and private vehicles are caused by private vehicles. Even though you take great care, not everyone does the same. If another driver damages your equipment, you should take certain steps to expedite your claim and collect your lost income.
1. Gather Evidence
After making sure everyone is safe and alerting emergency personnel as needed, start gathering your evidence. Take pictures of everything that may be relevant. You’ll want pictures of the scene, damage on all vehicles, each vehicle’s license plate, skid marks, items in the road, and any adverse weather conditions.
If the accident involved another commercial vehicle, take pictures of the signage on the truck, especially the DOT number. If the police don’t do a report, take a picture of the other driver’s license. This can be imperative in parking lot accidents. A company driver may tell his employer that he wasn’t there for fear of losing his job. When you have pictures of his truck and his license, the truth cannot be denied.
Be sure to get the names and contact information for any witnesses. If the witness is willing, you may consider recording the statement on your phone.
2. File the Claim ASAP
You must be proactive to prevent the adjuster from claiming you wasted time and had unnecessary downtime. Immediately make a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance or trucking company (if self-insured).
You must jump the liability hurdle first. In other words, you’ll have to prove the other driver caused the accident. All the evidence you gathered at the scene comes into play.
The other person’s insurance may drag the claims process out if they dispute liability. If this appears to be the case, you’ll need to file a claim with your own insurance or pay for the repairs yourself. If they continue to deny liability, you will likely need to hire an attorney and possibly file a lawsuit.
3. Mitigate Losses
You’re legally required to mitigate or lessen your losses. One way to do so is to file a claim with your own insurance when the other side is slow in handling your claim. Once the claim is paid by your insurance, they will attempt reimbursement from the at-fault insurance carrier (called subrogation). To avoid a claim history on your insurance, you could pay out of pocket for the repairs and pursue reimbursement yourself.
If a temporary repair will get you back on the road, do it. That would be part of mitigating your losses. However, if the rig isn’t DOT compliant, don’t take a chance on running. Keep records showing it to be undrivable or not DOT compliant.
One of the main ways of mitigating your losses concerns renting replacement equipment. You should demand recovery of the cost of rental equipment from the at-fault party or his insurance.
If you’re unable to rent, keep documentation to prove it. For example, appropriate equipment may not be available. Ask for an email or fax from the rental company confirming the lack of suitable equipment. If you’re leased on to a motor carrier, your contract may prohibit rented equipment. Then you’ll need to be prepared to send a copy of your contract or a letter from the motor carrier. Some shippers or receivers may ban rented equipment, especially on military installations. Obtain documentation stating that fact. Renting may simply not be economically feasible. The cost of the rental plus mileage may prevent any profit. In this case, you’d need to provide documentation showing the projected cost versus average income. And finally, if Penske, Ryder or other companies deny your application, ask for a denial letter.
4. Document Lost Income
After proving liability, the next step is proving your losses. You’ll need to be able to document your lost loads or lost income. Receipts for any out of pocket expenses will be required. Once you document your average income or actual lost loads, they will probably try to negotiate the amount. They may argue the amount you earn seems excessive, or they may argue that you shouldn’t have been down as long as you were. Be sure to keep evidence that your equipment was not drivable or not DOT compliant to counteract their claim.
5. Hire a Lawyer Who Focuses on the Trucking Industry
Oftentimes, hiring a lawyer may be your best bet for recovering your losses. You’ll want a lawyer who is familiar with the trucking industry and fluent in insurance language. Eckert & Associates, PA focuses on the transportation industry. The majority of our practice pertains to downtime claims and property damage for truckers. For a free consultation, use our Do I have a Case? Form or call today, 904-278-7688.
Reviewed for accuracy by attorney Kelsea Eckert.