Filing Semi-Truck Accident Claims

Motorists injured in a trucking accident or a crash involving a semi-truck may bring a negligence claim against the at-fault truck driver, corporate owner, and insurer of the truck.

In this negligence claim, injured motorists may recover damages for their injuries that aren’t covered by no-fault PIP benefits. Those damages include:

Despite the similarities to other types of injury claims brought under Michigan’s no-fault law, trucking accidents involve many special issues and therefore claims can be quite complicated. For this reason, anyone injured in an accident with a large truck should contact an experienced Michigan semi-truck accident lawyer for legal assistance.

Elements of a Semi-Truck Negligence Claim

When bringing a negligence claim against a semi-truck operator, insurer, or company, an injured motorist must prove four basic elements:

  1. the driver and/or owner of the semi-truck owed the injured motorist a legal duty;
  2. the driver or owner breached that legal duty;
  3. the motorist sustained an injury; and
  4. the driver or owner’s breach of duty caused the motorist’s injuries.

State and Federal Semi-Truck Laws

Defining the truck driver or owner’s legal duty is a crucial step in any negligence case. Normally, motorists have a legal duty to comply with traffic safety rules and regulations. However, semi-trucks are subject to additional rules and regulations created by the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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These semi-truck laws govern a number of critical issues regarding semi-trucks and their operation, including:

  • Insurance

    • At a minimum, the trucks that are subject to the regulations (generally those weighing more than 10,000 pounds) must carry, at minimum, $750,000 worth of insurance on the individual truck. That number may be as high as $5,000,000, depending on what the truck is transporting.
    • Motor carriers may not operate without obtaining at least the minimum amount of insurance required by the regulations.
    • Passenger carriers are also subject to insurance requirements. Those capable of carrying sixteen (16) or more passengers must carry $5,000,000 of insurance; those that seat less must carry at least $1,500,000.
    • Knowingly violating the regulations may result in a civil penalty of no more than $11,000 per violation; if a violation spans more than one day, each day constitutes a separate violation.
  • Record Keeping

    • Employers must keep records of their alcohol and substance use and/or prevention programs.
      • Records that must be kept for at least five (5) years include the following:
      • driver alcohol test results showing an alcohol concentration of 0.02 or higher;
      • driver verified positive controlled substances test results;
      • documentation of refusals to take required alcohol and/or controlled substances tests;
      • driver evaluations and referrals;
      • calibration information;
      • records related to the administration of alcohol and controlled substances testing programs, and
      • a copy of each annual calendar year summary as required by regulation.
    • Must maintain records concerning alcohol and controlled substances collection processes for at least two (2) years.
    • Records of negative and canceled controlled substances test results and alcohol test results showing a concentration of less than 0.02 must be maintained for a minimum of one (1) year.
    • The following are some of the records that the motor carrier employer must maintain:
      • collection process;
      • driver’s test results;
      • violations of regulations;
      • evaluations;
      • education and training; and
      • administrative records related to alcohol and controlled substances testing.
  • Record Retention Periods

    • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations provide that certain records must be kept for the designated minimum retention periods. However, depending on the type of record, a company may exercise its discretion in determining how long to keep it. In this regard, the regulations state that, “Companies shall exercise reasonable care in choosing retention periods, and the choice of retention periods shall reflect past experiences, company needs, pending litigation, and regulatory requirements.”

In addition, maintenance standards, the number of hours that drivers may operate a truck, and special safety precautions for the hauling of dangerous materials help to define the particular legal duties which are owed to all motorists by semi-truck drivers, owners, and insurers. Michigan has also adopted and codified the federal guidelines as part of the Motor Carrier Safety Act (MCL 480.11, et seq.). In many cases, the failure to comply with these state or federal rules may amount to legal negligence.

Threshold Injury Requirement in Semi-Truck Accident Claims

It is important to note that the third element of a negligence claim — that the person must have suffered an injury — is limited to only certain types of injuries. In other words, not every injury is compensable. Rather, the injured motorist must show that his or her injuries amounted to what is called a “threshold injury.”

Under the Michigan no-fault law, a threshold injury is met if the injured motorist suffered a “serious impairment of a body function,” “permanent serious disfigurement” or death. The definitions of the types of injuries that meet this threshold standard are frequently the subject of reinterpretation by the courts. As such, we encourage motorists injured in accidents involving large trucks to contact a Michigan semi-truck accident attorney to discuss the matter.

If you’ve been injured in a crash with a semi-truck or commercial vehicle, we are here for you.

Insurance Issues Related to Semi-Trucks

Oftentimes, there are many complex insurance issues in a semi-truck accident case. These issues must be resolved quickly in order to identify the proper defendant in the case and preserve the injured victim’s claim.

Semi-trucks and other large vehicles can carry multiple insurance policies. There may be one policy insuring the truck, while another policy insures the driver. Additionally, some companies employ separate policies to insure the trailer. And the goods inside the truck’s trailer may also carry their own individual policy.

Determining which policies may provide coverage for a motorist’s injuries can be tricky, but is essential to obtaining benefits. If the proper defendants and liability policies are not identified, the injured motorist may miss recovering compensation to which he or she is otherwise entitled.

If you’ve been injured in a trucking accident, you should consult with a knowledgeable trucking accident lawyer, who can help pinpoint the insurance coverage that’s involved.