As seen in Movin’ Out Magazine May 2019 Issue
According to the UMTRI, more than 71% of truck driving accidents are caused by passenger vehicle drivers. Only 16% of all truck driving accidents are the truck driver’s fault. If you’re in a traffic accident, the guy that hit you should have to pay to fix your truck. He should also have to pay your lost income while you’re down.
The catch is you can’t just sit back and expect to get paid for doing nothing. You have a duty to move if you expect the bad driver’s insurance company to pay your downtime losses. You are expected to get your equipment repaired and back on the road as soon as possible. Limiting your losses is called mitigation. If you don’t mitigate your damages, don’t expect full reimbursement.
Small trucking companies and owner operators often commit the following seven deadly sins:
Shiny, sexy, state-of-the-art new trucks can lure buyers who can’t really afford them. It’s tempting to start a business with the best of the best. However, financial stability is very important when buying expensive equipment. Not having deep financial resources and a backup plan when there’s an accident is short-sighted and dangerous. If two or three weeks down will put you out of business, you might be in the wrong truck. Slow, careful growth of a business is often the healthiest path.
While equipment is down, it’s important to rent or borrow equipment if possible. Sometimes that means using equipment that isn’t quite as pretty or as useful as yours.
Every owner operator needs to have a contingency plan so in times of an accident, the business can make it through. Additionally, a conscientious owner will proactively work closely with their insurance agent to understand the insurance coverage they have. It’s important to know what coverage is included in a policy. This may include physical damage, bobtail, cargo, downtime and towing coverage.
While television ads make it seem you’ll win a million dollars if you’re in an accident, that’s not often the case. If you’re the victim of an accident, get professional legal advice. Don’t have an unrealistic expectation of a windfall settlement or the time it takes to get paid.
If a trucking business is not financially sound, an accident can cause a domino effect of financial crises. However, every bad event that happens after an accident may not be legally attributable to the at-fault party. If the accident settlement takes a long time, some accident victims could lose their homes and prized possessions. Divorces and other personal problems could develop. While this may have happened because of the accident, many of these costs cannot be legally attributable to the bad driver. Damages must be “consequential” or directly related to the incident to be considered as recoverable.
A better idea is having realistic expectations of the process; and proactively provide documentation, photos, and accurate calculations of real losses to the adverse party. Getting back on the road, even by filing a claim with your own insurance company or paying for the repairs out of pocket is better than allowing the dominoes to fall.
Greedily cashing a check from the other side without careful review is short sighted. Don’t be too quick to accept the first offer, sign a release, or cash a check. By signing a release or cashing a check with release language, you might be giving up your rights to any more money, including downtime income, a bodily injury settlement, diminished value monies, your deductible, and your insurance carrier’s subrogation claim.
Ask your attorney whether it’s safe to settle your claim. It’s also important to work with your insurance company, your accountant, and other experts to get good advice before acting on impulse and cashing a check.
Sitting on the couch and watching TV isn’t a valid way to mitigate losses. It’s important to keep the claim moving along. Even though you’re the victim, you can’t just wait for the other side to handle everything for you and fix your equipment. You have to actively participate.
Make temporary repairs if possible and get back on the road. When damages are more significant, rent other equipment if possible. If rental isn’t possible, keep records of every attempt to get your equipment back on the road ASAP.
A careful claimant will keep a timeline of everything done to get back on the road. Gather documents proving attempts to rent, as well as any roadblocks, like motor carrier agreements which don’t allow for rentals. Include any written denials by rental companies and proof of specialized equipment which cannot be rented.
Anger, hatred, revenge! Bad behavior can damage a good claim. Be very careful what you say at the accident scene. Be careful what you say during the claims process. Adverse insurance adjusters look for reasons to deny claims. While the process may be frustrating, procedures must be followed before checks are issued. Insulting or agitating an adjuster may delay a valid claim.
Consider being thankful for no bodily injuries from the accident. While the adverse adjuster is going to take care of their insured, they may not necessarily be your enemy. Often, by speaking respectfully to the adjuster and providing requested documentation, you’ll make progress towards resolving the claim quickly.
“My buddy was in an accident and he got a bunch of money, really quickly. Why didn’t I?”
You and your buddy’s claims may be like apples and oranges. There are many factors that go into settling a claim. Every insurance company handles claims differently. Even if the two cases were against the same insurance company, each will be determined on its own merit. Focus on your own claim and make sure you mitigate your damages so the other side has little reason to deny your request.
“Well, it’s the principal of the matter!” This statement is often said in the heat of the moment. It may be said without thinking through the entire claim or having professional advice. A person that says this may be too proud to settle, as well as blind to the consequences. Going to court solely based on principal can be an expensive and sometimes disappointing process.
A better course of action may be to resolve the matter for a reasonable figure, even if less than desired, and get back on the road again. Time is money. Getting back to work will help not only your profit margin, but your mental health.
Hopefully, you will avoid all accidents. But if someone does hit you, make sure you protect yourself legally and mitigate your damages so you can collect your entire losses.
If you’ve been in an accident, complete our contact form for a free consultation by one of our attorneys.