Why fret about something that’s never happened to you? Because the financial damages could cause you to lose your farm.
When it comes to farm truck accidents, too many farmers are putting themselves at unnecessary financial risk every time they get on the road, according to Purdue University’s Fred Whitford.
Whitford, who gave a sobering presentation at Farm Journal’s Corn College in Coldwater, Mich., said that congested highways and many drivers’ uncertainty about how to behave around heavy farm machinery on the road create real safety dangers for operators of farm vehicles.
And if such an accident happens and results in a person’s death, Whitford warned, the typical award for the victim’s family is $4 million to $5 million. "It could cost you your family farm," he said.
But there are ways to reduce your risk of accidents, limit your out-of-pocket costs if you are involved in an incident that’s not your fault, and reduce your farm’s financial exposure.
Here is what Whitford recommends:
1. Know who’s driving your vehicles. You’ll want to check driver’s license records and criminal backgrounds before you hand them the keys, because you don’t want to end up in court attempting to explain to a jury how you didn’t know your employee’s license was suspended due to drunk driving convictions. You may also want a driving employee to have a commercial driver’s license (although it’s often not required), a drug/alcohol test, and a U.S. Department of Transportation medical exam, which confirms they are physically capable of handling the vehicle. And yes, this is good idea even for relatives who work on the family farm.
2. Know what your state requires for farm vehicle operators. While lawmakers have loosened regulations for farm equipment use and operation in recent years, your state may have different guidelines.
3. Regularly inspect and diligently maintain your equipment. Depending on your level of experience and expertise, you may be able to handle inspections or maintenance mostly on your own. "Every year, take one vehicle to have a third-party inspection, because it allows someone to check your work," Whitford said. Why is this so important? If your farm vehicle is involved in a serious accident, investigators may try to recreate the crash and carefully examine your truck, trailer, or other equipment to see what—or who--might be at fault.
4. Check your insurance coverage. If you haul heavy loads, drive your vehicles out of state, lend out your trucks, have others carry your products, or a host of other common situations, you may not have the coverage you need, according to Whitford. "If you are hauling commercially as a farmer, you don’t have insurance," he says, because the farm policy doesn’t apply to that situation. He also highlighted another often-overlooked area: pollution coverage, should you have an accident involving agricultural chemicals. If your policy doesn’t cover pollution, you could end up paying tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to clean up the spill and any legal mess.
5. Find the right legal structure for your farm and farm-related operations and businesses. That could include separate limited liability corporations for your farm operations, your land, and your trucks, depending on the risks and assets of your farm. Legally, it certainly does require more paperwork, but throwing up walls between the different parts of your business also insulates them legally and financially from each other, which is what you want to avoid the worst-case scenario of losing your land. "You want to structure your farm to survive a catastrophic fatal accident," advised Whitford.
Thank you to the 2014 Corn College sponsors:
AgriGold, BASF, Great Plains Mfg., Honeywell, Plant Tuff, SFP, Top Third, Wolf Tra