Matthew McConaughey–the greatest Lincoln MKC actor of our generation
Remember the 1996 crime drama “A Time to Kill” with Matthew McConaughey–yes, the actor best known for his role in the new Lincoln commercials? Well, in the movie McConaughey plays a young attorney who defends a black father (Samuel L. Jackson) accused of murdering two white men who raped his 10-year-old daughter. If you’ve seen the movie, you won’t forget the closing argument. In a powerfully persuasive closing, McConaughey asks the jurors to close their eyes and imagine what they would feel if one of their white daughters was raped. As powerful as a closing it is–and it worked because the jury sided with McConaughey–that’s not how real-life closings work.
Insurance? I didn’t know there was insurance?
In most personal injury cases involving everyday car collisions, more often than not the insurance company insuring the striking vehicle–the at-fault driver’s car–is responsible for paying for the injured person’s injuries. But when the time comes and you take your case to court, the jurors are not told that the insurance company is footing the bill. It is the insurance company that is paying for the defense attorneys, and it is the insurance company that will cover the jury’s verdict. But that doesn’t come out at trial. Whether a defendant is insured against liability is inadmissible at trial. O.C.G.A. § 24-4-411. This means that the jury will never be presented with evidence that the defendant driver has a policy of insurance available to compensate the plaintiff for his injuries.
In a trucking accident case, however, the jury is informed that there is insurance available. In Georgia, there are two statutes that allow the plaintiff to sue the defendant’s insurer directly: (1) O.C.G.A. § 40-1-112; and (2) O.C.G.A. § 40-2-140. These are commonly referred to as the “direct action” statutes.
Georgia’s Direct Action Statutes
O.C.G.A. § 40-1-112(c) reads, “It shall be permissible under this part for any person having a cause of action arising under this part to join in the same action the motor carrier and the insurance carrier, whether arising in tort or contract.”
O.C.G.A. § 40-2-140(d)(4) states, “Any person having a cause of action, whether arising in tort or contract, under this Code section may join in the same cause of action the motor carrier and its insurance carrier.”
Although the wording is nearly identical, the term “motor carrier” is defined differently for each provision.
Trucking Accidents: Nuanced Rules in Georgia
There are several important considerations to keep in mind when bringing a claim directly against a trucking company’s insurer. First, even if the trucking company does not comply with its duties under the Motor Carrier Act, the insurer is not necessarily relieved of its coverage obligations. Sapp v. Canal Ins. Co., 288 Ga. 681 (2011). In other words, if a trucking company fails to obtain a proper “motor carrier” permit, its insurer may still be sued directly as though the company had obtained a permit. Id.
Second, the fact that the insurer has canceled the trucking company’s policy due to failing to pay premiums does not automatically relieve the insurer of liability. Progressive Preferred Insurance Company v. Ramirez, 277 Ga. 392 (2003). Before an insurer may terminate a “motor carrier’s” policy, it must provide the Public Service Commission 30 day’s written notice. Rule 515-16-11-.08. This means that if the insurer does not give proper notice to this PSC, a plaintiff may still sue the insurer even though the policy has been terminated. Ramirez, 277 Ga. 392.
What does knowing there is insurance available mean at trial?
It means that in a truck accident case, a jury gets to know that the insurance company is footing the bill. It means that among other differences between a car collision and a commercial vehicle collision, the lawyer gets to educate the jury on who will pay the verdict. It means that the jury gets to understand that the team of attorneys sitting at the defense table is being paid by the insurance company. (And perhaps least important of all, it means that actors like Matthew McConaughey could make a truck accident movie where a questionable closing statement like “A Time to Kill” isn’t quite so questionable.)
Trucking accidents can lead to catastrophic injuries. It is important to have an attorney who is experienced and understands trucking accidents, and the direct action statutes. Our attorneys have real experience in representing individuals injured in trucking collisions. Our attorneys visit the accident site; we know the experts; and we know the law.
If you have been in a collision involving a semi-truck or tractor trailer, contact us for a free consultation. Our main line is (678) 940-1444.