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Trucking is a big business in Wisconsin, which is also known for making cheese and being home to major corporations such as Kohl's and Oshkosh. Every day, trucking companies in the area move over 240,000 tons of goods. One in every 15 jobs in the state is in the trucking industry, which makes it a significant contributor to the state's economy.

However, residents of Wisconsin should be aware that large trucks can be hazardous on their roads. Despite safety precautions, truck accidents still occur. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were 2,621 large truck accidents in 2021 alone. This represents a 16% increase over the previous year. A shocking 4% of these accidents were fatal.

This article discusses Wisconsin laws regarding trucking accidents. It provides valuable information for victims if they sue negligent drivers and companies. By knowing the law, victims can obtain justice and hold offenders accountable.

Wisconsin Overweight and Oversized Permit Laws

The state of Wisconsin requires drivers to obtain permits if their vehicles are larger than those allowed. Weights of 20,000 pounds or more on a single axle or 34,000 pounds or more on a tandem axle require a WisDOT permit.

There are other instances where a permit is required. These are the conditions:

  • A width that exceeds 8 feet and 6 inches 

  • A height that is higher than 13 feet and 6 inches

  • A length that exceeds 45 feet is applicable for single-unit vehicles. Those that operate combination trucks with a length over 70 feet also require a permit.

Permits are also issued to truckers who transport raw milk from farms to transfer stations or processing plants. Drivers who use a combination vehicle with six or more axles and a gross vehicle weight of 98,000 pounds must obtain permission from the state's transportation agency. 

Truckers transporting raw forest products such as logs, wood chips, poles, and Christmas trees face similar requirements. 

Wisconsin residents who want to report violators can do so through the Wisconsin State Patrol, which runs the Bureau of Field Operations. The office’s phone number is (844) 847-1234. Individuals can also visit the agency's website to view the contact information for troopers assigned to specific state regions.

Wisconsin Seasonal Weight Restriction Laws

There are over 112,000 miles of roadway throughout the state, according to WisDOT. At least 10% of these roads are state highways. Although less common on Wisconsin roads, these highways handle over 60% of the state's annual travel. During the transition between winter and spring, these roads thaw and might be dangerous as they are less stable. 

State officials implement weight limit programs during specific months to make roads safer and last longer. These programs may either raise or lower weight limits. One is the frozen road declaration, typically in effect from mid-December to late February or early March. The declaration means the weight limit increases to 98,000 pounds from the standard 80,000. It only applies to trucks that carry road maintenance materials like salt and unpeeled forest products. 

Some roads are too weak to handle the 80,000-pound legal limit. These comprise 170 miles of state highways. Truckers are highly advised to contact WisDOT and determine the roadways with posted weight limits. There are some exemptions, though. Vehicles that move specific commodities, including milk or heating fuel, can operate on such roads for public welfare or health purposes.

Wisconsin Hazardous Material Endorsement Laws

Truckers aiming to tow hazardous materials must get the “H” endorsement from WisDOT. They have to go through a process that involves a review of their citizenship and criminal background. The process likewise includes a knowledge test.

Wisconsin has specific rules for the transport of hazardous waste. Drivers must have a valid EPA ID. Vehicle operators must also have a hazardous waste transportation service license. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grants the permit.

As of 2018, drivers must sign up with the EPA's e-Manifest system. The system lets truckers sign, review, and print manifests to get rid of hazardous wastes, which also need to be labeled and marked to follow federal rules.

Truckers who encounter hazardous waste spills should call Wisconsin's 24-hour emergency hotline. The number is 1-800-943-0003. Also, spills that could lead to explosions or fires should be reported to the Wisconsin DNR. Truck drivers must also contact the National Response Center as soon as possible.

Wisconsin Drug & Alcohol Testing Laws

For commercial drivers, tests for the presence of intoxicants are required in a variety of situations. Some examples are:

  • Newly hired drivers should submit a negative test to their employers during onboarding before beginning work.

  • Two supervisors must provide documentation before the test can begin if there is a reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence of intoxicants.

  • The severity of the accident influences the rule. Authorities must conduct an alcohol test on the trucker within eight hours. Drug tests should be administered 32 hours after the accident. 

  • Prior to returning to duty, individuals who have failed or refused a drug test should provide a negative result in order to regain their driving privileges.

Commercial employers may use tests such as urine and hair samples to determine whether or not their employees are intoxicated. However, municipal agencies are enjoined to test people using urinalysis.

Wisconsin Hours of Service Laws

Wisconsin adopts federal regulations that deal with the hours of service for truckers. Under national law, drivers should take at least 10 consecutive hours off duty or the same period in the sleeper berth. They can also accumulate 10 hours of combined off-duty and sleeper berth time. The combined 10 hours are valid if the period spent on the sleeping bunk is at least seven hours. 

Trucking companies cannot allow drivers to operate their vehicles if they have worked 60 hours in seven days. Furthermore, truck drivers are not permitted to drive after 14 consecutive hours of work. After eight hours of continuous driving, you must take a 30-minute break.

Certain hours-of-service regulations do not apply in certain circumstances. Truckers transporting farm animals, for example, do not require a 30-minute break. Those who drive ready-mixed concrete delivery trucks can take a 30-minute break while waiting at a job site. These drivers should not be on the road at that time.

Wisconsin Farm Service Commercial Driver License Laws

Some drivers need a CDL for farm service if they move agricultural materials between farms. The farm service industry is made up of a wide range of businesses, from agri-chemical retailers to custom harvesters.

Drivers may be eligible for a special license to transport goods with the following conditions:

  • Solid fertilizers are permitted as long as there is no trace of organic matter in the cargo. 

  • Liquid fertilizers whose combined capacity does not exceed 3,000 gallons.

  • Diesel fuel is allowed if the total weight of the load is at most 1,000 gallons.

Individuals can also qualify for the license if they are employed in the industry for at least 180 days per year. If they work for more than that, they should apply for a standard CDL.

Wisconsin residents with a Farm Service CDL are only allowed to work within 150 miles of their place of employment. If a trucker offers custom harvesting services, his license only works within a 150-mile radius of their client's farm.

Wisconsin Commercial Trucking Insurance Requirements

The FMCSA mandates "minimum levels of financial responsibility" for all trucking companies doing business in Wisconsin or across multiple states. They are as follows:

  • $300,000 for trucks weighing less than 10,001 pounds and moving non-hazardous goods.

  • $750,000 for vehicles weighing more than 10,001 pounds and transporting non-hazardous materials. 

  • $1,000,000 for trucks that transport oil.

  • $5,000,000 for vehicles that tow cargo tanks and hopper-type cars carrying hazardous substances.  

Additionally, motorists in Wisconsin must carry policies that meet the state’s minimum insurance requirements. These are

  • $25,000 for the death or injury of one person. 

  • $50,000 for the death or injury of two or more people.

  • $10,000 for damage to the victim’s property.

Wisconsin has joined neighbors Minnesota and Illinois in making uninsured motorist coverage mandatory. These policies should have a $25,000 per person and a $50,000 per accident limit. Such policies can help victims manage expenses such as lost wages, medical bills, and funeral costs. According to the most recent Insurance Research Council data, 13% of Wisconsin residents, or 150,000 people, are uninsured. The organization ranks Wisconsin 19th in the country, and it emphasizes the significance of uninsured motorist coverage.

Like other states, Wisconsin lets drivers give law enforcement officers a digital copy of their insurance policy when asked. People who are caught without proof of insurance face different penalties, no matter how the proof is shown (in person or online). There are fines ranging from $10 to $500. False insurance paperwork can get you fined up to $5,000.

According to an online insurance broker, Wisconsin truck drivers pay an average of $6,714 to $9,231 per year for commercial insurance. The final premium is determined by the add-ons obtained from insurers, which may include policies that cover damage to goods or bobtails. Drivers in the state typically earn less than those in Illinois and Minnesota.

How Much Can Someone Sue for a Truck Accident in Wisconsin?

There are no laws in Wisconsin that limit the amount of money a plaintiff can receive from a defendant. There are, however, limits in cases involving non-economic damages.

When a victim dies and leaves minor children behind, state law requires that a sum be set aside for the children's protection. After deducting collection costs, this amount must not exceed 50% of the total recoverable compensation. 

The victim's family may also recover damages for their loss of companionship. The amount is capped at $350,000 for a deceased adult and $500,000 for a deceased minor. If the plaintiff seeks compensation from state agencies, the law limits the damages to $250,000. The number goes down to $50,000 in cases involving volunteer fire companies. Another issue to consider is punitive damages. State law limits these to $200,000 or twice the plaintiff’s compensatory damages, whichever is higher.

Wisconsin Statute of Limitations for Truck Accidents

Under state law, Wisconsinites can file a personal injury claim against truckers within three years. The period starts from the accident date. The three-year window applies in cases involving acts of negligence or intentional harm. It is also in effect even if the defendant goes outside Wisconsin. The absence does not impact the filing period.

In some instances, the allotted time is different. For example, in accidents involving minors, they need to reach the age of 18 before they can bring a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. The legal action must begin within two years after they become a legal adult. If the plaintiff is mentally ill from the accident, he can file a claim against the defendant two years after he has regained his legal competence.

Wisconsin is a Fault State for Insurance Claims

Wisconsin, like Minnesota and Michigan, is an "at-fault" state. The system requires truckers who are at fault to pay for the victim's damages. These could include medical treatment, lost wages, or vehicle damage. 

Plaintiffs have the option of going after multiple parties. These include the truck driver and their insurer. Accident victims with collision coverage policies can file claims with their insurer.

Wisconsin is a Modified Comparative Fault State for Trucking Accident Lawsuits

Wisconsin's legal system is based on a modified comparative negligence system. Truck accident victims may seek compensation from at-fault parties under this system as long as the plaintiff's liability does not exceed the defendant's. Wisconsin is one of 22 states that have a 51% bar rule, including neighbors Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan. The plaintiff can recover damages under the rule if their fault is 50% or less. However, the amount they can recover decreases as their fault percentage increases.

To illustrate, suppose you were involved in a truck accident. Your damages have been estimated at $10,000. If a court in Wisconsin determines that you were 40% at fault for the collision, you will receive $4,000 less in compensation. Therefore, the maximum award you may recover is $6,000.

Average Settlement for Wisconsin Trucking Accident Lawsuits

No clear figure shows the average settlement for people injured in truck accidents in Wisconsin. Some cases are not as bad as others, affecting how much compensation victims receive. People who are unable to work due to an accident may be compensated more.

There is also the collateral-source rule. According to Wisconsin law, payments from other sources cannot reduce the amount of compensation a plaintiff can get from the person who caused the injury. Under the rule, defendants cannot say that their liability is lessened if the plaintiff gets compensation from their health insurance company.

Legal Resources for Wisconsin Trucking Accident Victims

Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Since 1967, WisDOT has been planning, constructing, and overseeing the state’s highways. It also manages the Badger State’s air, water, and rail transportation systems. Individuals can find planned and current construction projects per region here. To improve safety across roadways, WisDOT manages the Highway Safety Improvement Program. It aims to decrease traffic crashes through solutions like statewide accident maps. 

Wisconsin State Patrol

The Wisconsin State Patrol is the group that enforces traffic laws all over the state. It has more than 100 motor carrier inspectors. Its Bureau of Field Operations runs 16 places where weight laws are enforced. Through its Technical Reconstruction Unit, the organization also looks at car accidents and writes reports about them. People from Wisconsin can look up the contact number of the commander in charge of their area.

Office of the Commissioner of Insurance

The OCI has been in charge of ensuring insurance companies in Wisconsin follow the rules for more than 150 years. As part of its job, the organization looks at insurance policies, keeps an eye on how insurers are doing financially and gives out information to help consumers. It also takes care of insurance fraud complaints. People can file a complaint against an agent or company here.

Legal Action of Wisconsin

The organization has offices in Madison, La Crosse, Milwaukee, and Green Bay to help low-income people in Wisconsin with their legal problems. It has dealt with consumer law cases before and helped people who were having trouble with their auto title loans. The group also helps people who want to get their driver's licenses back in order to get a job. People can call 855-947-2529 to reach their intake line.

Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association

The Wisconsin trucking industry speaks out through the non-profit trade group. There are more than 1,300 members. The association runs the Wisconsin Safety Management Council as part of its work to promote safety education. Here, people who want to learn about the state and federal rules that govern the industry can find links that will help them.

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