Auto vs. Commercial Truck Accident: What’s the Difference?


Laura Schaefer

If you’ve recently been in a car accident with a commercial truck, you may be confused about who is liable for the damage to your vehicle. You may also wonder who will have to pay any medical bills that arise from the accident — as well as cover lost wages you may experience.

This situation is a little bit more complex than just a typical car accident between two regular drivers. You aren’t the only person wondering about the difference.

A reader of ours recently asked: “What’s the difference between a commercial truck accident and a regular auto accident?”

The answer is there are several key differences. First, if you’ve recently been involved in a commercial truck accident, you’re suing the driver’s employer to recover your damages — not an individual or their car insurance provider. The driver’s employer will most likely be a trucking company or large retailer.

This key point is so important to the difference between the two types of accidents that it is worth repeating. The main difference between personal and commercial auto insurance is who owns the vehicle. That’s because in a commercial truck accident, the 18-wheeler’s driver always carries insurance — and for a much larger amount.

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Federal Law Requires Insurance That Covers Every Possible Expense In a Commercial Truck Accident

The first difference is that federal insurance laws guarantee that any commercial truck or company vehicle driver has comprehensive insurance. In a commercial truck accident, this type of insurance covers your injury, property damage, and possibly your legal fees. (This would be the amount you have to pay an auto accident lawyer.)

When you sue a person driving their private car, only state (not federal) laws regulate the insurance requirements for that driver. In some cases, the driver could have no insurance at all! Fortunately, if a business owns the vehicle that hit your own, its driver must be covered by commercial auto insurance to operate legally in the United States.

It’s true that both personal and commercial auto policies can pay for legal expenses, bodily injury, and property damage. However, there are differences between the two policies. Commercial auto insurance usually covers:

  • Higher claim amounts
  • Different types of vehicles
  • More complex legal issues

This type of insurance costs more than regular personal policies because the coverage has to include all the company’s employees. Commercial coverage also typically has higher liability limits than personal auto insurance, which is good news if you are the one suing a trucking company after an accident.

Other Reasons Why a Commercial Truck Accident Is Different Than A Regular Car Wreck

Sadly, the laws around insurance are designed to account for the fact that you’re much more likely to have a serious injury or die in a commercial truck accident than a regular auto collision. Commercial trucks are much bigger and more complex vehicles. Their drivers often operate using a time-is-money approach that can make rest and breaks difficult. Thus, these vehicles cause more damage than small private cars or trucks when things go awry.

Legal records show you’ll get about 25x more money in a commercial truck accident settlement than a regular auto insurance claim. According to the Insurance Information Institute, commercial vehicle insurers have much larger minimum policy coverage requirements for bodily injury claims than regular private drivers, typically $500,000 to $1 million.

The data show that private auto insurance policies only paid an average of $20,235 for bodily injury claims per person in 2020. However, commercial truck payout awards are significantly bigger. A recent report by the American Transportation Research Institute examined more than 600 cases resulting in either a settlement or verdict award of less than $1 million. This study showed:

  1. Out-of-court settlements were approximately 37.7% larger than verdict awards. Cases involving a fatality had the highest average award at $607,532.
  2. Cases that did not have a fatality had an average payment amount of approximately $428,000.
  3. Back injuries had the lowest average payout at $368,237.

The Violation Affects the Settlement Amount

The type of traffic violation involved in a commercial truck accident also affects the settlement amounts. Violations noted in this study included driving over the posted speed limit, inadequate training practices, and equipment failure. According to the report, the top five violations and their average payout amounts were:

  • Poor driving history: $680,333
  • Telephone usage: $629,375
  • Hours-of-service violations: $564,531
  • Asleep at the wheel: $543,343
  • Equipment failure: $503,641

Don’t Go It Alone

If you’ve been involved in an accident with a commercial truck, you may need to sue to recover damages due to you. Reach out to an expert auto accident attorney in our network to learn more about next steps today.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online auto accident case evaluation now!

Laura Schaefer

Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at and