During the confirmation hearings of the now-confirmed Justice of the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch, a decision he made regarding the termination of a tractor trailer driver came up time and again. Put most simply, the “Freezing Trucker Case” centered around a driver who was terminated from his job for insubordination. In near-zero temperatures, the trucker’s brakes weren’t working properly, but the instructions from the dispatcher were either to drive with the cargo (with the faulty brakes) or stay in the truck and wait for someone to arrive, despite the freezing temperatures and failing heat.
The trucker unhooked the cargo and drove to a gas station to warm up, refuel, and for this action, he was fired. Gorsuch ruled that the termination was legal, noting that while it was unkind, it was technically permissible due to some peculiar wording in the law as applied to the physicality of the truck itself.
This particular story has brought to the public’s attention the issues surrounding laws and big rig truckers, from the way their labor practices govern employer-employee relations to compliance and regulation with insurance laws.
At present, the federal government requires that trucking companies need to be insured for only $750,000. In practice, this number is laughably low. Considering the inherent dangers that large trucks present when they share the road with smaller cars, most agree that this federal minimum needs to be considerably higher to cover themselves in the event of an accident. The aforementioned dollar amount was set in the 1980s, so adjusted for inflation, the minimum should be a little over 2 million. As per the Department of Transportation, the price tag on a human life clocks in at about 9.6 million dollars, so most trucking companies find themselves grossly underinsured.
Advocates have been fighting for years to increase the federal minimum, but small trucking companies have fought them tooth and nail, claiming that even small insurance requirement increases would cause them to fold. Despite years of slow steady progress from the “higher minimum” camp, the Trump administration recently decided to halt all progress in the name of “protecting small businesses” and “insufficient insurance data,” much to the chagrin of families who’ve lost loved ones to big rig accidents.
Naturally, most insurance agencies that offer coverage to trucking companies highly advise significantly more coverage than required by the federal government, if not to keep other drivers safe, at least to stay in business after an accident. However, at present, the legal impetus remains slim and none.