Truckers Win Fight to Keep Insurance Payouts Low

In 2015, 4,067 people were killed in large truck crashes in the United States

Truckers Win Fight to Keep Insurance Payouts Low






This article was written by Paul Feldman, is a staff writer at FairWarning, a nonprofit news organization based in Pasadena, California, that focuses on public health, consumer and environmental issues.

Feds Reject Insurance Hike for Big-Rigs, Pleasing Independent Truckers, Rankling Safety Advocates

By Paul Feldman on July 13, 2017 Brown was headed to his job as a computer technician when a drowsy big-rig driver swerved into his path and struck his car, sending it flying off a rural Illinois road and into a field.

Brown was airlifted to a hospital for a six-hour surgery that saved his life. He suffered collapsed lungs, broken arms and legs, neurological damage and kidney failure, his mother, Kate Brown recalls. Hospitalized for 75 days after the May, 2005, accident, Graham Brown, now 40, has endured more than 20 surgeries and still cannot use his left hand or arm.

Yet because the small trucking company had little more than the federal minimum of $750,000 in liability insurance, Kate Brown says she and Graham’s father were forced to dip into their retirement funds and take big chunks of time off from work to help care for their son.

Graham Brown eventually received a settlement of about $300,000, she says, after payment of attorney’s fees and other expenses. With continuing medical costs and permanent injuries that could reduce his earnings, he faces an uncertain financial future.

Graham Brown, shown here with his mother, Kate Brown, was severely injured in a crash with a big-rig, and has had more than 20 surgeries. Because the trucking company had little more than the federal minimum of $750,000 in liability insurance, Brown faces an uncertain financial future.

The $750,000 minimum has been in place since 1983, but safety advocates who have campaigned to raise it have been stymied up to now. In their latest setback, the Trump administration in June dropped consideration of a higher minimum on grounds that it couldn’t get enough data from insurance and trucking firms to prove that the benefits would outweigh the costs. Efforts to raise the minimum previously stalled under the Obama administration, which also cited problems in collecting enough data.

Tens of thousands hurt

Kate Brown, of Gurnee, Illinois, said she was grateful her son survived, noting that “most people don’t live through crashes like that.” As for the financial stress on the family, Brown said it’s ”the price you have to pay because of the minimum insurance.”

Each year, close to 4,000 people are killed in the U.S. in crashes involving large trucks and tens of thousands more are hurt, some suffering catastrophic injuries that leave them disabled and in need of expensive lifetime care.

Yet for more than three decades, the federal minimum for truck liability insurance has remained stuck at $750,000. That amount, which must cover all victims of a crash, may be a fraction of the expenses for a single badly injured survivor. Simply adjusted for inflation, the minimum would be more than $2.2 million today.

“A million dollars wouldn’t have gotten my kids out of Akron Children’s Hospital,” said Baltimore resident Ed Slattery 61, a former economic analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who quit his job to care full-time for his two sons after they were critically injured in a 2010 big-rig crash on the Ohio Turnpike that killed his wife Susan.

The $750,000 minimum is a sliver of the $9.6 million value placed on a human life by the Department of Transportation when it is considering the costs and benefits of safety regulations.

Except for independent truckers, who say that even a small hike in their insurance premiums could force some of them off the road, few argue that the current minimum makes sense.

Action by private sector

The Trucking Alliance, an industry group that includes such major firms as J.B. Hunt and Knight, urges truckers to maintain coverage “significantly higher than the federal minimum requirement.” Doing so is necessary “to maintain the public’s trust and cover the medical costs associated with truck crash victims,” the organization says.

Even without a change in the government mandate, the private sector has moved the bar slightly on its own. A survey by the American Trucking Associations showed that eight of 10 truckers maintain $1-million of liability insurance to meet requirements imposed by private brokers and shipping companies.

Consumer advocate Joan Claybrook faulted both the Trump and Obama administrations for failing to raise minimum liability coverage for trucking firms.

In 2013, a bill to raise the minimum to more than $4 million was introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., but got no traction.

A year later, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, the branch of the Department of Transportation that regulates interstate trucking, announced it would consider raising the minimum and requested public comment.

But in one of a flurry of deregulatory moves by the Trump administration, the motor carrier safety agency last month said it was withdrawing the proposal. Citing difficulty in getting industry data for a cost-benefit study, the agency said it lacked enough “information to support moving forward … at this time.”

Lack of data to justify an increase

Consumer advocate Joan Claybrook, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, called such reasoning ”ridiculous” and also condemned the Obama Administration’s failure to take action when it had the chance. She said that during Obama’s second term, officials of the motor carrier safety agency dragged their feet, also citing lack of enough data to justify an increase.

In an interview with FairWarning, Randi Hutchinson, chief counsel for the agency, said it cannot issue a regulation without ample cost-benefit evidence. If it did so, a court “would most likely find the regulation was arbitrary and capricious.”

Safety advocates said they hope the issue isn’t dead, and that they may again seek help from Congress.

“This remains a top priority for the congressman,” said Cartwright’s legislative director Jeremy Marcus. “Whether a legislative solution or working with the FMCSA, he’s still hoping to get these insurance rates raised to an appropriate level.”

Jackie Novak, of Hendersonville, North Carolina, who lost her only son, Charles, 22, in a crash with a tractor trailer in 2010, says she has little hope of action by the Trump administration.

The crash that took her son’s life also killed four others and injured more than a dozen. A $1 million liability policy was ultimately divided between survivors and next of kin. The family of Charles Novak, who had a two-year old son, got just over $100,000, Jackie Novak said.

‘Has your car insurance gone up?’

“Not only is he never going to know his father, but … someone has to pay to raise him.,” she said. “So guess what? Social Security is now taking up the task to raise my grandson.”

“I ask this question of every lawmaker that I’ve spoken to in Washington,” Novak told FairWarning. ” ‘Has your car insurance gone up in the last 34 years?’ Did anyone call to ask:  ‘Are we going to put you out of business if we raise the insurance?’ No, they just do it.

Charles Novak, a 22-year-old father, was killed along with four others in a crash with a tractor-trailer in 2010.

“So this argument that raising the minimum insurance would be putting small operators out of business doesn’t wash with me. … They permanently put my son out of business, so if you can’t afford to be in that business, then be in a different business.”

The most vociferous opposition to an increase has come from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which claims 158,000 members and has spent more than $2.3 million lobbying in Washington since the start of 2015, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

After federal officials abandoned the effort, the group declared success in “getting a potentially devastating proposed regulation withdrawn.”

In considering an upgrade, the motor carrier agency reviewed several analyses showing that claims in severe accidents far exceed the liability minimum. The Trucking Alliance, for example, reported that more than 40 percent of injury claims against its members exceeded $750,000.

The American Trucking Associations, on the other hand, submitted a study of 85,000 crashes that found the average loss per crash was $11,229.

But safety advocates say insurance minimums aren’t meant to cover average accidents, but truly serious ones.

‘Salt on a wound’

“It’s bad enough when a family experiences a tragedy in losing someone or having loved ones severely injured,” said John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, an advocacy group. “It’s like salt on a wound when then you find out the company that caused this damage cannot compensate the family whether it be for medical bills, lost income or whatever.

“What happens, sadly, is these people suffer again because now they’re put in a situation where they have to rely on taxpayers, whether it be through Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, whatever it is,” Lannen added in an interview.

In the Ohio crash that killed Ed Slattery’s wife, the fact that the truck was owned by Estes Express Lines, a big firm with deep pockets, has made all the difference in his ability to provide lifetime care for his wheelchair-bound, brain-injured son Mathew, now 19, and a second son, Peter, who suffered less debilitating injuries.

Estes agreed to a settlement of more than $40-million, aimed at providing round-the-clock aid to Matthew in a new and specially equipped house.

“I’m the poster child of how it should go, I’m not the poster child for the norm,” said Ed Slattery, who has started a foundation to assist the families of other brain-injured people. “The luck of the draw is I got hit by a big company  …. that was well insured.”

Even so, he said, Matthew’s life will never be close to normal.

“He’s going to need 24/7 supervision for the rest of his life,” Slattery said. “He’s not going to college with his classmates — they’re all freshmen. They’re dating. He’s not. They’re driving. He’s not. It breaks your heart every day.”


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Industrial Safety & Hygiene News



Maryland Truck Crash Victims’ Families Urge Chairwoman Mikulski to Remove Language from Omnibus Provisions to Increase Truck Driver Work Hours


Eliminating Truck Drivers’ Weekend Off Will Result in Death, Devastation, and Danger on our Roads

WASHINGTON, DC (December 10, 2014) – Ed Slattery and Larry Liberatore, both Maryland residents who lost loved ones in truck crashes due to truck driver fatigue, sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) urging the chairwoman to ensure that critical regulations governing truck safety remain in full effect and are not rolled back in the 2015 government spending bill. Two days remain until the deadline to pass a spending bill expires. The letter comes in support of public safety, labor, public health, and consumer groups as well as Administration efforts to ensure that truck drivers receive adequate rest and are not driving fatigued on the nation’s roads and highways.

“As you know from our meetings, letters and emails, truck driver fatigue irrevocably altered our families and left our remaining members afflicted with grief and pain,” the safety advocates and Truck Safety Coalition volunteers wrote. “Larry lost his son, Nick, when a tired trucker carrying a load of steel veered across three lanes, and ran over the car in which Nick was a back seat passenger. Ed lost his wife, Susan, and his sons, Matthew and Peter, were seriously injured when a truck driver fell asleep behind the wheel of his triple-trailer truck and ran over their family’s car and then burst into flames. Peter was conscious to hear the paramedics declare his mother dead and Matthew suffered permanent traumatic brain injury. Truck driver fatigue crashes are sudden, brutal and unforgiving.”

Special trucking interests are now working with Senator Collins (R-ME) to repeal a truck safety regulation that will result in a significant increase in the working hours of truck drivers from 70 to 82 hours and a reduction in their off-duty rest time. This rider comes despite overwhelming public opposition (80 percent) to raising the number of work hours for truck drivers. In addition, 80 percent of Americans say they would feel less safe if legislation were passed to raise the number of hours a semi-truck driver is allowed to work in a week from 70 to 82 hours. Truck driver fatigue is a known major safety problem, and has been for over 70 years. The crash that happened last summer, when comedian Tracy Morgan was seriously injured and his friend, James McNair, was killed on the New Jersey Turnpike by a tired Walmart truck driver, is but one example of the devastation that occurs from fatigue.

The letter continues, “The current hours of service rules governing rest requirements for truck drivers are based on years of study and sound scientific research in addition to a review of public comments. They should remain firmly in place.  In 2012 large trucks were involved in 3,700 accidents with close to 4,000 fatalities and 104,000 injuries. With so many crashes, we should be examining further limitations on hours of service, not suspending the rules currently in place. At the very least, hours of service requirements should not be suspended during further study, but rather maintained until evidence illustrates a change would not pose a threat to public safety.”

Read the full letter here.


Truck Safety Advocates in the News

Two of our volunteers are now featured in two recent articles published by Bloomberg News. In these articles, Marianne Karth and Ed Slattery, speak out about their personal experiences on living after a tragedy.

After Marianne lost two of her daughters, AnnaLeah and Mary, in a truck crash last year, she turned her pain into advocacy. Marianne started a petition directed at Secretary Foxx that accrued over 11,000 signatures. The petition urges the Department of Transportation Secretary to address the truck safety issues that could have helped prevent the truck crash that killed her daughters. In the petition, Marianne asks him to (1) raise the minimum levels of insurance required for truck drivers, (2) decrease driver fatigue and monitor their hours on the road with Electronic Logging Devices, and (3) take needed steps to improve underride guards.

Karth turned to Facebook, created her own website and sent more than 11,000 petitions to pressure U.S. regulators, including Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, in a bid to force safer trucking practices and equipment.

Speaking about her advocacy work, Marianne told Bloomberg News,

If there’s anything I can do to help prevent some other family from having to go through the same thing, then it’s worth it.

Ed’s wife, Susan, was killed and son, Matthew, was permanently injured in a truck crash. According to the article,

Matthew is making slow and steady progress, yet will always need care.

The Truck driver responsible for the crash has since lost his job and was sentenced to prison, after admitting to falling asleep while driving. Much of Ed’s story involves conflict with the driver, and as the article states,

Their combined experiences add up to a tale of loss, forgiveness and denial that is still evolving.

At the heart of this story, however, is Ed’s relationship with his son. Speaking about Matthew, Ed tells Bloomberg News,

I love him so much it hurts.

Press Release: Truck Safety Advocates Respond to News of Truck Crash that Killed New Jersey Police Officer

Contact: Beth Weaver, 703.294.6404


Findings Show Truck Did Not Brake Before Slamming Into Police Car Parked on Highway Shoulder – Truck Driver Charged with Second-Degree Vehicular Homicide

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 18, 2014)—The Bergen County Prosecutor’s office announced in a press release last night that truck driver Ryon Cumberbatch has been charged with second-degree vehicular homicide in the crash that killed New Jersey police officer Christopher Goodell. According to the press release, there was no evidence of pre-impact braking by the truck. It was revealed that it appears from the roadway evidence that Cumberbatch drove directly into the police car without stopping or attempting to stop. Truck safety advocates respond to the tragic crash with messages of condolence and support for Officer Goodell’s family.

Daphne Izer founded Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) after losing her son Jeff and his three teenage friends in a crash caused by a tired trucker who fell asleep behind the wheel and ran over their car.  Izer said, “My heart goes out to the Goodell family because I truly understand the pain that they are going through, and I want them to know that our volunteer network, including myself, is here to offer support, grief services and resources.”

Ed Slattery, a Board Member for PATT added, “We don’t know yet for sure whether fatigue was a factor in this crash, but the hour of the crash and the lack of braking would indicate that it is very possible.” Slattery lost his wife, Susan, in 2010 after a truck driver fell asleep behind the wheel of a triple trailer truck and crashed into his family’s car on the Ohio Turnpike. His two sons were also seriously injured, one permanently, in the crash.

Slattery added, “Truck driver fatigue has been a known safety issue for over 70 years, yet it remains a major contributor to truck crashes. I am completely dismayed by the amendment introduced by Senator Collins (R-ME) that would force overworked truck drivers to drive even more hours each week, exacerbating fatigue and fatigue related crashes.”

Recent deadly truck crashes in New Jersey, including the crash that killed James McNair and injured comedian Tracy Morgan and two friends, underscore the urgent need to improve truck safety and reduce truck driver fatigue.

In response to the New Jersey truck crashes, and the expanding issue of truck driver fatigue and other truck safety issues, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), introduced an amendment, cosponsored by Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod C. Brown (D-OH), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Brian E. Schatz (D-HI), and Chris S. Murphy (D-CT). The Booker Amendment would protect important safety rules governing rest periods and the hours of service truck drivers may work each week.

Izer, who was awarded the White House Champion of Change award in May 2014, for her efforts to reduce truck driver fatigue, concluded, “I support the Booker Amendment because we need to uphold the ongoing efforts to improve truck safety issues, not make them worse. Our families cannot continue to pay the ultimate price when truck safety issues and improvements are known. It is well past time to make the changes necessary to reduce truck crashes, and the resulting fatalities and injuries.”

The Truck Safety Coalition (, a partnership between the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation and Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), is dedicated to reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by truck-related crashes, providing compassionate support to truck crash survivors and families of truck crash victims, and educating the public, policy-makers and media about truck safety issues.


Truck Driver in Slattery Crash Sentenced to Five Years

Truck Drivers Being Pushed Beyond Their Limits to Drive Excessively Long Hours
Truck Driver Who Pled Guilty to Aggravated Vehicular Homicide and Aggravated
Vehicle Assault Sentenced to Five Years Sending a Strong Message to Truck Drivers
Arlington, VA (January 12, 2012):  The truck driver behind the wheel of a triple trailer truck who had fallen asleep and crashed into the back of the Slattery family car resulting in the death of Susan Slattery and serious injuries to her and her husband Ed Slattery’s two sons was sentenced today in the Portage County Court House of Portage County, Ohio.  He was charged by a grand jury with one count of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of aggravated vehicle assault to which he pled guilty.  The judge sentenced him to five years sending a strong message to truck drivers that they will be held responsible for their actions and decisions on the road.
Ed Slattery responded to the news, “While nothing can bring back my wife or restore my sons’ complete health, I want people – the motoring public and truck drivers alike – to know that our roadways are not as safe as we believe them to be. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) just issued a rule allowing truck drivers to drive 11 hours a day and up to 70 hours per week, and truck driver fatigue is an industry-wide health crisis.  In a recent survey almost half of truck drivers (48%) admit that they have actually fallen asleep while driving during the previous year, and 65% of truckers report that they are often or sometimes drowsy.” Slattery continued, “I want truck drivers to know that when they are pushed to surpass these already excessive driving hours, they – and not the companies – may personally wind up paying the price of jail time, or even worse.  Truck drivers deserve the same protections provided to airline pilots.  It makes absolutely no sense that our government has created a safety hierarchy of sorts where truck drivers fall to the bottom.  This system is driving truckers and surrounding motorists to our graves.”
The Slattery family crash occurred on August 16, 2010 around 11:45 a.m. near the 190-mile marker on the Ohio Turnpike in Streetsboro.  Susan Slattery was one of the 3,675 people killed in truck crashes in 2010.  This number of deaths was an increase of 8.7% from 2009 and was contrary to the decrease in overall motor vehicle crash fatalities which went down to its lowest level since 1949.
“Truck drivers are paid by the mile which results in a financial incentive to drive as fast and as far as they can,” stated John Lannen, Truck Safety Coalition Executive Director.  “The DOT issued this inadequate hours of service (HOS) rule and still has not required electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) in all trucks and buses.  They are perpetuating an unsafe work environment for truck drivers and endangering all those on the roads.”
Studies show that truck crash risk increases exponentially after 8 consecutive hours of driving and the highest level of crash risk occurs during both the 10th and 11th hours of consecutive driving.  Decreasing truck driver’s HOS by one hour would limit the time they are on the road during this period of highest crash risk.
Slattery concluded, “This is not a happy day for my family and we feel badly for the truck driver and his family but responsibility must be taken for the crash.  What happened to my family is clear and compelling proof of why the HOS rule must be changed and what the real costs of fatigue in the trucking industry are.  The truck driver HOS rule must be based on scientific studies, not the financial desires of the trucking industry.  While the trucking industry may claim that reducing the HOS to 10 consecutive hours would negatively impact their bottom line, I want to point out that it would produce more than $2 billion a year in crash, injury and health cost savings.  My family’s crash alone cost millions and health care costs for the rest of my son Matthew’s life are estimated at beyond $18 million. Our lives will never be the same but I will continue to work to reduce truck driver fatigue so that another family will not have to suffer the tremendous loss that my family lives with every single day.”