On-the-job driving can be hazardous to your health -- and can raise all sorts of car insurance questions.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 8,200 Americans died in traffic crashes between 2003 and 2008 while doing their jobs, representing about one-fourth of all deadly occupational injuries during that period.
Tom Simeone, a personal injury attorney who specializes in car accidents and car insurance, says the legal intersection between working and driving boils down to one question: Did the accident occur while the driver was “in the scope of his or her employment"?
“Employers often argue that an employee was on personal business to avoid liability,” Simeone says. “And with cellular technology, there are more issues like this than ever before. What if a lawyer is calling or texting a client on her way home from work or while going to the store on the weekend?”
Experts recommend asking and answering questions like that before a car accident happens -- not after.
Whose car is it?
One of the important matters to consider is ownership of the vehicle involved.
If you're driving your own vehicle for work, your personal car insurance will be used first, then your employer’s. If you're driving your employer’s vehicle, the employer's insurance will be primary and your personal insurance will be secondary.
While most business vehicles carry a commercial auto policy with liability coverage of least $500,000, that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for financial disaster.
“Most people think, ‘Well, I work for a big company and I'm sure they have a lot of insurance coverage,’” says Gary Massey Jr., a personal injury lawyer who specializes in workers' compensation and auto accidents. “That’s usually true. But what they don't realize is that when you're injured in a company car while working, you usually don't have uninsured motorist coverage from your company.”
This means that if the person who causes the accident has low liability coverage -- something like $25,000 -- or no insurance at all, you can't recover money for the full extent of your injuries.
The solution to this problem is not always an easy one. Most private car insurance policies exclude coverage for work-related driving. Massey’s recommendation: Buy your own commercial policy to cover yourself.
“Make certain the policy has no business or employment exclusion,” Massey says. “And make sure the limits are high enough to cover severe injury.”
What about the little guy?
Not everyone who drives on the job works for a large company. Realtors and sales representatives, for example, often log thousands of work-related miles on their personal vehicles. Since a personal car insurance policy normally excludes coverage for commercial use, State Farm agent Markus Tolson says Realtors, sales reps and similar on-the-road professionals should look into commercial coverage.
“These types of people are usually rated with a business class rating, which is usually a higher rating than the regular to-and-from-work rating,” Tolson says. “In this case, the drivers should be insured by a commercial auto policy.”
Tolson says commercial auto insurance policies have higher liability limits than personal policies, but they're also more expensive. Granted, commercial auto insurance can be less expensive if it’s for a fleet of vehicles because of the volume, but it’s more expensive for individual trucks, vans, buses or any other commercial vehicle because of the dangers associated with driving them and the traditionally higher value of the vehicle.
“However,” Tolson says, “commercial auto policy premiums can often be lowered if the vehicle being insured has a high safety rating, and each driver completes a driver safety course each year.”