Trucking vs. Non-Trucking Liability Policies: Easy, Right?

Truck drivers often find themselves operating their trucks outside the scope of their employment, and outside the scope of their carrier’s insurance policy.  As such, most people in the industry are familiar with “non-trucking” or “bobtail” liability insurance policies, which provide certain coverage while a tractor is being used for non-business purposes. Specifically, non-trucking liability insurance covers a tractor-trailer when it is used for non-business purposes, whereas bobtail insurance covers a tractor when it is not hauling a trailer, also known as “bobtailing.” Although the concept is simple, coverage issues between trucking and non-trucking/bobtail liability policies often find their way into the courtroom. The key issue in these cases is whether or not the truck in question was “acting in the business of the carrier” at the time of an accident. For perspective, courts throughout the country have found “acting in the business of the carrier” to include:

–          Incidental stops, such as meals and rest, during transit;[1]

–          Returning an empty trailer after delivery;[2]  

–          Driving to pick up a trailer or a load pursuant to orders from the carrier;[3]

–          Returning from a job that was cancelled;[4]

–          Returning home after a load was delayed;[5] and

–          Driving to a mechanic while not under dispatch, with the approval of the carrier.[6]

An interesting aspect of these types of coverage cases is that the outcome is often determinative upon a single fact. For example, while some courts have found that traveling to a mechanic is generally an act within the “business of the carrier,” other courts have rejected this position where contract terms specifically provide that the owner-operator is responsible for the maintenance of the tractor. Thus, if a trucker is required to maintain their tractor at their own expense, an accident that occurs while the tractor is being driven to a mechanic may be considered outside the “business of the carrier.” See, e.g., Zurich-American Ins. Co. v. Amerisure Ins. Co., 215 Mich. App. 526 (1996).  Courts have disagreed on this issue, but the majority view is that maintenance prior to picking up cargo is “in the business of the carrier” because it is a necessary function for the continued operation of the carrier’s business. However, such differences in interpretation mean that there are usually arguments to be made for and against coverage, and so these issues will inevitably continue to regularly appear in coverage litigation.

[1] Greenwell v. Boatwright, 184 F.3d 490 (1999).

[2] Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Connecticut Indem. Co., 857 F. Supp. 1300 (N.D. Ind. 1994).

[3] Argonaut Midwest Ins. Co. v. Morales, 2014 IL App (1st) 130745.

[4] Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Haack, 708 N.E.2d 214 (Ohio Ct. App. 1997).

[5] Guaranty Nat’l Ins. V. Vanliner Ins. Co., 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9505 (1998); see also Occidental Fire & Casualty Co. v. Padgett, 113 Ill. App. 3d 215 (1983).

[6] Great W. Cas. Co. v. Nat’l Cas. Co., 53 F. Supp. 3d 1154 (2014); see also Occidental Fire & Cas. Co. v. Soczynski, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2687.