Don't Let An Accident Cost You the Farm

July 21, 2016 10:02 AM

Fred Whitford, director of Purdue Pesticide Programs, isn’t one to mince words – and he certainly didn’t when talking about truck accidents with attendees of the 2016 Farm Journal Corn College.

“Accidents happen,” he says, “but if you are at fault, bad things can happen. Accidents can take away the farm.”

Whitford  offered advice that will prevent farmers from finding themselves in that catastrophic situation. He admits the stakes have changed over the years, too. For example, farm drivers are driving longer hours, and often find themselves on congested highways. Employee turnover means you might not know your newer drivers as well, and the public overall is less experienced diving around farm machinery.

And last but not least, the farm equipment itself has gotten much larger in recent years, Whitford says.

“We operate big pieces of equipment,” he says. “Your dad or granddad’s implements look like little toys by today’s standards.”

Whitford’s blueprint for success involves exercising caution and leaving as little to chance when it comes both to the equipment and the driver. That’s because if you put a driver in a farm vehicle and that driver gets into an accident, both the driver and the farm owner could end up being liable for damages.

Hiring a new driver? Call their references, Whitford suggests. Ask for a DOT physical (even if it is not required in your state). Institute a drug and alcohol policy with clear consequences for violations.

“Don’t settle for someone who can breathe into the mirror and fog it up, and who has two legs and two eyes and a driver’s license,” he says.

Vehicles also observe attentiveness, Whitford adds. This means annual equipment inspections. If you do them all yourself, send a few trucks each year to a third party “for another set of eyeballs.” Keep these inspections on file, along with records of part replacements and routine maintenance.

“[Keeping] no maintenance records is a kiss of death [in a lawsuit] because it lets the other side plant seeds of doubt in the case,” he says.

It’s never a bad time to talk with your insurance agent, Whitford adds. That’s because from equipment to personnel, things change from year to year for most farmers, he says. In particular, pay close attention to insurance against catastrophic accidents. Most farmers would benefit from increasing uninsured/underinsured motorist limits, adding coverage for emergency response costs, declaring an accurate travel radius for all equipment, and structuring the insurance policy so all employees are automatically covered.

In the unfortunate incident of a farm vehicle accident, Whitford urges farmers to do these four things as soon as possible.

  1. Call law enforcement immediately after any crash.
  2. Notify your insurance carrier as soon as possible (but contact police/emergency response first).
  3. Get a drug and alcohol test.
  4. Record your thoughts and talk to your attorney – but not to the other party’s attorney.

Purdue University has developed two resources, “The Aftermath of a Farm Truck Crash” and “Farm Truck Accidents” for farmers who want to learn more about the safety and liability concerns surrounding farm vehicle accidents.

Interested in attending a future Farm Journal College event? Get the full listing of additional offerings at

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