Your tools are the most important thing you need for the work you do, and this includes the vehicles you use. Whether it is a chipper truck, boom truck, or just the pickup truck you use to get from job to job, your needs will vary based on the work you do. No matter what work vehicle you use, it should have commercial auto insurance.
It can help protect your business from unexpected financial claims and get you back up and running quickly if something happens.
At-Fault vs Not-at-Fault
Depending on where you do business, insurance claims are handled differently based on the state’s fault laws. Each car crash involves unique circumstances, but the way injuries are handled depends on whether the state where the crash happens an “at-fault” or “no-fault” state.
In an at-fault state, the driver who caused the crash is responsible for the damages and medical expenses for those involved – up to the policy limits.
In a no-fault state, the driver who caused the crash is still responsible for the damages, but each driver’s insurance company will pay for the insureds’ medical expenses using personal injury protection. Therefore, even if you or your employee are not-at-fault for the crash, you may still have to file a claim with your own insurance company to cover your or your employees’ medical expenses.
Twelve states and Puerto Rico have no-fault insurance laws, including Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Utah. However, state laws differ based on the size or severity of the claim.
The no-fault system was established to lower the cost of car insurance by taking small claims out of the courts and having each insurance company compensate its own policyholders for the cost of minor injuries – regardless of who was at fault in the accident.
If your vehicles are insured in a no-fault state, personal injury protection (PIP) insurance is required. However, if you are insured in an at-fault state, but drive into or do business in a no-fault state, you will want to ensure you are covered.
In some at-fault states, you can get PIP insurance for this additional protection, but PIP is not offered in 29 states. Therefore, you can often alternatively get medical payments coverage.
In the event of a crash, medical payments coverage helps pay for the medical expenses of the policyholder, their passengers, or other drivers listed on the policy, regardless of fault.
Commercial Auto Insurance Coverages to Consider
While auto liability coverage is mandated by state laws, physical damage coverage is an option that is very beneficial in the tree trimming industry. This coverage helps repair the vehicle in the event of a collision, as well as damage from falling objects, such as tree limbs. It can also cover specific causes of loss, such as fire, lightening, or theft.
Physical damage coverage is an important consideration if your business cannot afford to repair or replace the damaged vehicle if something happens. Fortunately, the cost of the coverage can be balanced by a deductible that the business can afford.
Unfortunately, physical damage coverage does not cover diminution of value to the vehicle. So even if the vehicle is repaired with high-quality parts, it may lose some resale value. This is usually covered by liability insurance, so if someone else is at fault, you may be able to seek diminution of value in your claim.
As members of the tree trimming and arborist industry, you know that if one of your critical vehicles is down for any reason, it can have a big impact on your business. Another commercial auto insurance coverage to consider is loss of use coverage.
When commercial vehicles are damaged, the calculations of “loss of use” or “lost profit” damages are complicated and vary by state. By having loss of use/revenue coverage, you can ensure you are protected from the financial impact of losing a vehicle from your fleet.
Following an accident
If you or your employees are ever involved in an accident, first check to make sure everyone involved is safe. If there are injuries, call 911. If not, get everyone to a safe location and call the police.
Next, exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver. Be sure to capture the other drivers’ :
- Full name and contact information
- Driver’s license number
- License plate number
- Insurance company and policy number
Writing this information down and taking pictures of all of these things helps ensure you get the information you need for your insurance claim.
In addition to capturing this basic information, use your smartphone to get pictures or video of the vehicles involved from several different angles to show the damage done to both cars. Try to record the entire scene, noting:
- The date and time of the accident
- The damage to each of the vehicles
- Any additional property damage
- Skid marks
- Street names
- The direction the vehicles were headed before the accident
- The location/direction they ended up
- Any other circumstances that could have an impact on the accident
In addition to narrating the video or dictating what happened using the voice memo app on your phone, sketch a diagram of the crash scene and include your notes about the weather or any other conditions which may have been a factor in the crash.
Be sure to avoid discussing who was at fault with the other driver. If there are any witnesses to the crash, be sure to capture their names and contact information. This will be helpful for those investigating the crash to gain additional perspective and determine fault.
Witnesses have no personal or financial investment in determining who was at fault, so the information they provide is often the most beneficial.
Estimate the damage
Your insurance agent or adjuster will gather all of the documentation and information you collected and will guide you through the claims process. One of the first steps of that process will be to get an estimate of the damage.
Take your vehicle to a repair shop to inspect the damage and send a report to the insurance company. The insurer will take the repair shop’s estimate into account when determining how much they will pay to repair the vehicle.
When seeking compensation or legal recourse for injuries from an accident, it may not always be straightforward. Each case must be evaluated individually, but you should consider every potential contributing entity.
For example, a construction company may have tracked mud onto the street causing it to be extra slippery. The construction company may be partially at fault and could be a source of recovery compensation. Perhaps the crash was caused by defective brakes, and the manufacturer or mechanic that installed them could have contributed to the accident.
Be sure to consider all of the factors that contributed to the accident, as they may also be another source of recovery for compensation related to the crash.
Handling the claim yourself
In addition to considering the other contributing factors to the accident, there are several other things to consider if you plan to handle the claim yourself.
Consider the extent of the damages. In addition to the physical damage to the vehicles, did it impact your ability to do business or your potential income? Does a resulting injury prevent you from doing something at your job? Be sure to think about the impacts as well as the damages.
Before agreeing to a settlement, understand what you may be agreeing to. Many agreements do not allow for any future claims related to the incident.
Your insurance agent
While you can handle the claim and settlement yourself, it helps to have the benefit of those who have extensive experience in this area. Your insurance agent has likely dealt with similar situations and can guide you through the process. They also want to ensure the promise they sold you is satisfied. With their experience and expertise, your insurance agent can also help you maximize your compensation.
Additionally, arborist and tree service professionals should carry the right tree service insurance coverage to protect their business in the event of an incident.