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Trucking Accidents: All in the Family

I. Head on Collision

It’s a phrase that grabs our attention, and almost freezes our thinking. Head on.

As frightening as the concept of a “head on” collision is, a trucking accident attorney is aware of the crucial legal details of how to try to recover from such an accident. For example, head-on collisions are actually fairly rare, compared to other types of more common trucking accidents. One interesting and troubling fact is that head on collisions are more likely to happen in rural areas: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that head on collisions cause 13% of all rural, fatal accidents. This is compared to almost a 50% lower head-on fatality rate in urban areas: a 7% urban fatality rate.

These numbers are often crucial factors in how a trucking accident attorney explains what happened in a fatal head on. Part of this has to do with availability of medical services, road design, extreme weather conditions, knowledge and speeds.

The following case represents one of the most unfortunate examples of head on collisions. Located in a rural area, the loss of life in this case raises significant issues about insurance coverage. For example, what to do when a trucker has coverage, which may or may not extend to other injured parties: including his own family members. This case was even more complicated, owing to the reluctance and tough negotiation positions of the insurance companies to provide comprehensive coverage, until forced into that position by a knowledgeable trucking accidents Attorney. Perhaps hardest of all, was that there were real difficulties in assessing how to accommodate the financial claims of the many injured people.

II. Tragedy Among Friends, Family

The vehicle with its five passengers was traveling down North Carolina Highway 89. That was when an oncoming truck struck them, head on. The results, devastating. As the trucking accident attorney reconstructed the scene, it was unclear from the record who had been driving the truck. As is common in many trucking related accidents, especially if they involve husband/wife driver teams, the actual driver may be less important than reconstruction of the accident itself. In this case, the primary facts were going to be first emotional, and then a lifetime of financial damages. Almost immediately, Caroline– the driver – died. The other four passengers, all fairly young women, suffered extensive injuries.

As a result of pretrial negotiations, the parties agreed to enter judgment against a presumed driver of the truck. Evidence uncovered by the trucking accidents attorney, however, later revealed there was a strong possibility that alcohol had been used by the truck driver.

Unfortunately, even as the parties negotiated, it became fairly clear that the insurance companies were addressing their serious desire to try to limit their policy limits. This led to the negotiations between the injured parties themselves, and a proposed settlement by one of the involved insurance companies. Advice from a qualified trucking accident attorney can help decrease any efforts to split the interests of the injured parties.

For purposes of this case, it also developed that the estate of the deceased driver involved, ironically, a professional truck licensee. That party had taken out a separate insurance policy for his Mac pickup truck, and its trailer. It was very possible, according to the argument of the trucking accident attorney, to expect the Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company to provide additional coverage for this tragic accident. Instead, the Farm Bureau insurance company argued that the Mac pickup truck was not a private passenger automobile, and was instead strictly covered by a business policy, for the truck driver alone, and not for any other family members or injured parties in any other family vehicle. This argument was eventually to reach the Supreme Court of north carolina.

In the meantime, the trucking accident attorney had been instrumental in reaching a settlement with Nationwide for a pro rata share of liability, between all the injured passengers, for coverage under that policy. Still left to the Supreme Court to decide then, was the issue of whether or not the Mac truck policy would provide any coverage for the death of a family member.

III.   When A Truck Is Not A Vehicle

In somewhat similar cases, trucking accident attorneys had shown that underinsured motorist coverage generally followed the person rather than the vehicle. This case was somewhat different, since it directly conflicted with the specific policy exclusion written by Farm Bureau’s coverage. In fact, the very possibility that insurance companies will react to adverse court cases in North Carolina, and rewrite their policies to their own benefit, is one reason it is absolutely essential to work only with an experienced trucking accident attorney.

The trucking accident attorney was perfectly willing to concede that the purpose of the UIM coverage here was for a business automobile policy. On the other hand, it was also clear that Farm Bureau had issued this policy to specifically cover the Mac truck and its low-boy trailer, so as to include UIM coverage. Furthermore, this UIM coverage was required by North Carolina’s Financial Responsibility Act.

One of two keys to possibly winning the case was when the Supreme Court agreed: interpreting a contract might be less important than determining the intent of the legislature. In fact, the court specifically noted that the “intent of the legislature is controlling.” In the same vein, the Supreme Court conceded that the language of the business automobile policy in this case, by its express language, did not extend coverage under the farm bureau policy.

On the other hand, the trucking accident attorney argued persuasively that the financial responsibility Act specifically intended to: (1) cover members of what are called the first class of insured parties (family members), (2) under the UIM clause, and (3) “without regard to whether the insured vehicle was involved in the… injuries.”

The Supreme Court agreed with the trucking accidents attorney, and ruled that this specific contract clause was in violation of North Carolina’s Motor Vehicle Safety and Financial Responsibility Act. The court ruled that language in the contract to be invalid.

Conclusions:   

Ultimately, however, the Supreme Court also excluded the Mac truck from coverage, and said this Mac truck and low-boy were not considered vehicles under this specific business policy. Though this case was an otherwise important step forward in protecting all members of a trucker’s family, there is still the need to always carefully assess insurance claims and defenses. Other policies may not work to exclude trucks as vehicles. Whether involved in a head-on whether involving a head on collision or not, this case clearly showed how important it is to work with an experienced trucking accidents attorney, especially if additional insurance is involved. This is particularly important when a potential trucking company or a trucker or their family is involved in providing liability coverage.

If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in a truck accident—or have questions about insurance claims or need help related to a truck or trailer vehicle insurance policy, or involving related claims, please contact us.  You will speak with a trucking accident attorney who can best answer your questions.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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