News & opinion What Is MCS-90? Here’s Your Answer (in Plain English)

What Is MCS-90? Here’s Your Answer (in Plain English)

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Most people have never heard of MCS-90. In our experience, those who have fall into one of these three categories:

  • people who work in or around the commercial trucking industry
  • people who work in the commercial trucking insurance industry
  • people who get hurt in accidents involving commercial trucks and suddenly discover that something called “MCS-90” can make a big impact on whether or not they can recover compensation for their injuries!

No matter where you’re coming from, we’re here to give you the lowdown on MCS-90.

If you’ve been in a truck accident and you need help filing a personal injury claim, get a free consultation by calling 866-959-0975 or visiting our contact page. Our experts are available 24/7!

MCS-90: The Very Basic Explanation

MCS-90 is an “endorsement” to a commercial auto insurance policy that virtually every trucking company and other motor carrier operating in interstate commerce has to have. In case you’re not familiar with these terms, we’ll go over them: An “endorsement” is insurance company lingo for an add-on to a standard insurance policy. A “motor carrier” is any company that transports passengers or cargo for pay. “Interstate commerce” refers to crossing state lines while conducting business.

Federal regulations require MCS-90 endorsement for all commercial motor vehicles operated by motor carrier authorities, as well as any private carrier transporting hazardous materials. If an MCS-90 is expired or incorrect, the trucker or trucking company may be fined by the Department of Transportation.

MCS-90 endorsement involves public liability. Contrary to popular belief, the MCS-90 does not add additional coverage to an existing insurance policy. Instead, the MCS-90 acts as an amendment to standard commercial auto insurance policies and it serves as a guarantee to members of the public—like you! It ensures that if you get injured in an accident involving a commercial truck, as long as you’re not the one driving it, you’ll have access to at least a minimum amount of money to pay for your injuries even if the standard insurance policy does not cover the commercial truck involved in your accident.

What Does This Mean for You? Here’s an MCS-90 Example

Imagine you’re driving down I-10 when a truck tips over on the highway. You do all you can to avoid the situation, but it’s too late. You’re struck and injured by the truck. It’s a bad wreck, and you end up in the hospital for months.

Between your medical bills, car repairs, and lost time at work, you’re looking at at least $100,000 in damages… and that’s before taking your pain and suffering into consideration.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

Normally, in a situation like this, you’d expect the trucker or trucking company’s insurance policy to pay for your damages and injuries. After all, the accident wasn’t your fault! But in this particular case, it turns out the trucker was road-raging at the time of the accident, and that’s what caused him to drive recklessly and tip over.

Shockingly, road rage is a typical “exclusion” to a standard commercial truck insurance policy—in other words, most commercial truck insurance policies don’t cover damages resulting from a “road rage” accident caused by a truck driver.

“No problem,” you think, “I’ll just sue the trucker and the trucking company.” But that turns out to be a dead end, too. The trucker is broke, and the trucking company is some fly-by-night outfit that can barely cover its own payroll, much less pay you the hundreds of thousands of dollars you deserve.

WHAT NOW?

This is where MCS-90 kicks in. In order to operate a commercial vehicle in “interstate commerce,” trucking companies (a.k.a. “motor carriers”) have to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). One of the steps those companies have to take when registering is showing they have the financial capability to cover any damage they cause to the public in the course of operating, even if their insurance doesn’t cover that damage. Most often, they do this by purchasing an MCS-90 endorsement on their insurance policy from their insurance company.

With an MCS-90 endorsement in place, the insurance company agrees to be on the hook to pay pretty much any claim by a member of the public injured by a trucking company’s vehicle, even if the insurance company’s policy doesn’t cover it.

Why would an insurance company agree to that? Good question! There are two reasons: First, because the insurance company gets paid for the MCS-90 endorsement by the trucking company. Second, because the MCS-90 gives the insurance company a claim for reimbursement against the trucking company/motor carrier for any money it pays out under the MCS-90.

However, it’s not a foolproof deal for the insurance company. If the motor carrier goes bankrupt, the insurance company is out of luck. But for you, the member of the public, the MCS-90 provides an important backstop to make sure you have someone to turn to for compensation when you get injured in a trucking accident through no fault of your own.

There’s a Catch, Right? There’s Gotta Be a Catch!

Yes, there’s a catch. A few of them, actually. Still, in the grand scheme of things, none of them should affect you too much if you have good legal representation from an experienced truck accident injury lawyer.

The MCS-90 endorsement only comes into play in very specific circumstances. First and foremost, the trucking company/motor carrier was operating in interstate commerce. That means it was doing business, in some form or fashion, across state lines. If the truck company only operates in Texas, MCS-90 doesn’t apply. In fact, the trucking company in that case probably doesn’t even carry an MCS-90 endorsement on its insurance policy.

If the trucking company/motor carrier does operate in interstate commerce, here’s what the situation has to be for the MCS-90 “guarantee” of your damages to kick in:

  • The motor carrier is at fault for the accident
  • The motor carrier’s standard insurance policy doesn’t cover the accident
  • You, the injured victim, don’t have anywhere else to turn for compensation
  • You are not an employee or independent contractor for the trucking company/motor carrier

Also, depending on how much commercial auto insurance coverage the motor carrier carries, the MCS-90 has dollar-value minimums. Keep in mind these minimums might be less than the amount of money you could recover from the insurance company under the standard policy (although it is common for the MCS-90’s maximum amount to correspond to the maximum amount of the underlying policy.)

Under the federal regulations governing MCS-90 endorsements, the liability minimums vary depending on what the truck is carrying. They are as follows:

  • $750,000 for a truck carrying non-hazardous property
  • $5,000,000 for a truck carrying certain hazardous substances
  • $1,000,000 for a truck carrying oil, hazardous waste, and other kinds of hazardous substances
  • $5,000,000 for small trucks carrying certain specific hazardous materials

Why is the first one so much lower, you ask? Trucks carrying non-hazardous loads make up most of the commercial truck traffic on the road. If their limits were any higher it might make the MCS-90 endorsement too expensive.

Environmental Restitution Coverage

The other reason the limit is so much lower for ordinary trucks carrying ordinary property is because the MCS-90 acts as a guarantee against environmental damage, too. Cargo spills can be a lot worse when a truck carrying “hazardous” cargo gets into an accident than when a truck carrying ordinary cargo does, and someone has to pay for all that clean-up. Some trucking insurance policies already feature a pollution exclusion, which would be modified but not totally dismissed in the event of environmental restitution coverage.

History of MCS-90, Truck Accident, Liability, and More

MCS-90 has been part of the federal law since the early 1980s, when Congress passed The Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1980 and the executive branch passed regulations in accordance with it.

Since 2000, the FMCSA has been the federal agency in charge of enforcing those regulations, which include registration of motor carriers and proof of “financial responsibility” (that is, demonstrating that they have the ability to pay for damage they cause to the public in the course of doing business in interstate commerce.)

MCS-90 endorsements are by far the most common way for motor carriers to prove their financial responsibility for damages resulting from truck accidents. There are, however, two other ways carriers can prove they have the dough to pay damages. One is a “surety” bond, and the other “self insurance.” A surety bond is a promise for one party to pay on behalf of another party if they fail to hold up their end of an agreement. There are potential complications involved with resorting to this sort of security for damages when a motor carrier doesn’t have an MCS-90 endorsement on its insurance policy.

Unlike accidents the insurance policy covers, an insurance company typically does not have a legal obligation to pay for the attorneys for the motor carrier when an MCS-90 endorsement comes into play. (It might be in the insurance company’s interest to do so, however, since whatever it pays under an MCS-90, it will want to recover from the motor carrier.) As a result, a motor carrier that has to resort to its MCS-90 to pay damages in an accident might be slower than usual to get legal help, or it might end up retaining a lawyer less familiar with truck accident issues than the lawyer the insurance company would’ve chosen.

Believe it or not, that poses challenges for your lawyer, too, so you need an experienced truck accident attorney on your side to help guide the process of recovering MCS-90 money.

Finally, MCS-90s can get tricky because they’re only triggered by the insurance policy to which they’re attached when not covering an accident.

Whether an insurance policy covers an accident usually comes down to two factors: What the policy says, and what state’s law applies to the policy.

Even when commercial trucking insurance policies have more-or-less “standard” language, every state has its own laws about how courts can interpret and enforce insurance policies. You need an experienced lawyer to figure out which law applies to a policy and how that law affects whether an accident is covered or not.

I Was Hurt in a Truck Accident. What Should I Do Now?

In any accident, you want to protect your rights and increase your chances of collecting compensation. Here are the most important steps to take after a truck crash:

  1. Call 911. First and foremost, make sure you see a doctor and get the healthcare treatment you need. Not only is this the most important thing for you and your family, but the records of the medical treatment you receive can be crucial evidence used to prove how much money the person who caused the accident owes you. Always prioritize health and safety after any auto accident. Even if you don’t think you need emergency care, you should still call 911 so police can respond to the scene and create an accident report.
  2. Exchange information. Get the name of the trucker and their employer or affiliate company. Record their license info, insurance info, license plate numbers, and make and model of all vehicles involved.
  3. Collect evidence. The most important step! Take photographs of your injuries, damage to your vehicle, any other vehicles involved, debris or cargo, and the surrounding area.
  4. Call your insurance company. Tell them you’ve been in an accident and provide them with the facts such as the time and location.
  5. Consult a truck accident lawyer. Many personal injury lawyers provide free case evaluations. Whether you hire them or not, their input can help you plan your next steps! Schedule an appointment with an experienced truck accident attorney to discuss your right to compensation as soon as you’re able.

We know talking with a lawyer might not seem like a top priority, but as the information about MCS-90 endorsements above should tell you, truck accidents can be mighty complicated. The sooner an attorney can get started protecting your legal rights to compensation and investigating the factual and legal aspects of the accident, the better off you will be.

Finally, here’s something you shouldn’t do: Don’t sign anything or agree to any settlement offer from any party to the case until you’ve talked to an attorney who is familiar with truck accident law! Trucking companies and their insurers are not on your side. They might try to get you to take a quick settlement offer to limit their exposure, particularly if the insurance company is worried that it is going to have to pay you under an MCS-90 endorsement. They don’t want to go through the hassle of following up with their customer in pursuit of a reimbursement the customer probably can’t afford!

We understand it might be tempting to accept the first offer you receive, but trust us: You will be significantly better off in the long run if you resist that “easy” money. Don’t sign away your rights to thousands! Always consult a lawyer.

Find a Nationally Recognized Truck Accident Attorney

As we’ve discussed on this page, truck accident cases are significantly complex, but by understanding some of the basic elements of a truck accident claim and working closely with an advocate you trust, you can ensure you obtain justice for your truck accident injuries.

To learn more about your options, enjoy a free consultation by calling us at 866-959-0975 or visiting our contact page to share your story. We’re here to listen, 24/7!

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