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A Guide to Workers’ Comp for Truck Drivers

Written by
A portrait of Atticus Client Advocate Kerry O'Shea.
Kerry O'Shea
Client Advocate
Published May 31, 2024
7 min read
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Truck driving gives you a way to earn a competitive salary while maintaining some level of freedom, but it’s not without its risks. This type of work often requires grueling hours and, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you’re almost three times more likely to have to take time off because you got hurt or sick on the job.

From working with dangerous equipment to the strain trucking puts on the body, it’s no surprise that a lot of drivers end up needing workers’ comp. Here’s a guide to get the full benefits you’re entitled to so you can get better and move on with your life.

The basics of workers’ comp

Workers’ compensation is an insurance program that pays medical bills and for lost wages when you get hurt or sick on the job. For example, if you get into an accident on the road and need to miss work while recovering, your company’s workers’ comp policy steps in to help you out.

Specifically, workers’ comp offers two main benefits:

  • Medical coverage that pays for all doctor’s visits, treatments, physical therapy, prescription medications, copays and other expenses related to your workplace injury

  • Lost wage coverage that pays you regular checks, usually every one or two weeks, if you can’t work — or can’t work at your full capacity — while you recover

All states require employers to have this type of insurance coverage except for Texas and South Dakota, but some employers in those states still provide coverage.

Filing for workers’ comp after you get hurt or sick on the job is a legal right. You don’t have to sue your employer to get these benefits and they aren’t a public benefit or a government handout. It’s a legal requirement in most states hard-working employees deserve coverage when they get hurt and can’t work.

Related article: 13 Common Misconceptions About Workers’ Comp

When truck drivers qualify for workers’ comp

If you’re an employee and you have an injury or illness that directly resulted from doing your job, you can qualify for workers’ comp.

A major key to getting benefits is your status as an employee. Independent contractors don’t qualify for benefits (unless you bought yourself a policy).

The language does get confusing here since most truck drivers are employed through contracting companies. To be clear: Just because you’re working for a contracting company doesn’t mean you’re a contractor. Your status is based on the legal classification that your employer uses on tax documents.

Signs that you’re an employee

There are a few signs that indicate that you’re an employee and, as a result, you’re entitled to workers’ comp. Those include:

  • You get a Form W-2 at tax time.

  • You have taxes withheld from your paycheck by your company.

  • You receive your paycheck on a regular schedule, like weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.

  • The company sets your work schedule, like by giving you strict driving schedules or delivery deadlines.

  • The company owns your truck, not you.

  • The company pays for your truck’s maintenance costs.

If the conditions in that list apply to you, you’re probably legally an employee, even if your company says that you’re a contractor. Unfortunately, misclassification isn’t uncommon for truckers. We speak more below about what to do if you’re misclassified.

Signs that you’re an independent contractor

If you’re an owner-operator truck driver, you’re likely a contractor and not an employee of any companies that hire you. As a result, you most likely aren’t entitled to workers’ comp. Some signs that you’re legally a contractor and don’t qualify for workers’ comp include:

  • Companies send you a 1099 form during tax time.

  • Companies don’t withhold any taxes from your pay.

  • You set your own hours.

  • You own your truck and pay for its maintenance.

What to do if you’re misclassified as a contractor

It’s somewhat common for companies to misclassify drivers. By calling you a contractor even if you’re an employee, companies get around offering you benefits like overtime pay, health insurance, and workers’ comp insurance. Plus they slash their expenses because they don’t have to pay or reimburse you for truck maintenance. They can also avoid paying you for meal and sleep breaks.

But it ultimately isn’t the company’s call how you classify. State and federal law governs things here. While the rules do get complicated, if your employer has full control over your driving hours, delivery schedules, and truck maintenance, you could be an employee.

If you were injured at work but your employer says you don’t qualify for workers’ comp because you’re a contractor, ask them to file a claim anyway. You may also be able to file a claim yourself.

However, we recommend talking to a professional since the insurance company is likely to deny your claim. A workers’ comp lawyer can likely help you and your initial consultation is free, so there’s no harm in talking to one. If they can’t help, they may refer you to an employment lawyer.

Atticus is a law firm with workers’ comp lawyers across the country. Take our quick workers’ comp quiz and we will reach out to learn more and connect you with a lawyer who’s a fit for your case. Your initial consultation is free and even if you sign on to work with our lawyer, you won’t pay anything upfront. You only ever owe the lawyer’s fee after they get you a settlement or win you benefits.

Learn more: Common Reasons That Workers’ Comp Claims Are Denied

Injuries that qualify for workers’ comp

Any injury, illness, or health condition that directly resulted from doing your job, you can qualify for workers’ comp. Injuries from one-time incidents — like a whiplash after crash — can qualify but so can conditions that develop over time — such as back pain or blood clots.

Workers’ comp also offers no-fault coverage, meaning it doesn’t matter who was at fault for the injury as long as you didn’t purposely injure yourself.

Some common qualifying injuries for truck drivers include:

  • Blood clots, hernias, and other issues that develop from sitting too much 

  • A heart attack from consuming excess caffeine to stay awake on long-haul drives

  • Crush injuries or broken bones, like from dropping equipment or slamming your finger in a door 

  • Back injuries, like degenerative disc disease from so much sitting

  • Knee issues, like patellar tendonitis from operating the clutch

  • Muscle strains from loading and unloading the truck

  • Trucker shoulder from tarping, chaining, loading, unloading, etc.

How to file a workers’ comp claim

If you get hurt or sick on the job, it’s important to report your injury to your employer ASAP. That usually means reporting it to your boss, contracting company, or someone in a human resources department.

Most states have a reporting deadline that requires you to notify your employer of a work injury within a week or even just a few days. Missing the deadline means losing workers’ comp benefits.

The way you need to report depends on where you live. Sometimes, verbal notice is enough, but many states require you to submit written notice or a specific form. This reporting guide gives instructions based on your state.

Once you tell your employer, they should give you the next steps within a day or two. Usually, that means filling out some paperwork with more information about your condition. After you return the form, they will submit it to their workers’ comp insurance company, which will approve or deny your claim.

If your employer drags their feet, figure out the filing steps in your state. Following up with them could nudge them into action. If it doesn’t you can reach out to your state workers’ comp board or talk with a workers’ comp attorney.

Next you’ll need to see a workers’ comp doctor for medical care and an official treatment plan. In some states, your employer can choose your doctor or require you to see one from a list of approved providers.

Knowing which state to file a claim in

Also known as jurisdiction, this can get complicated for truck drivers. For example, where should you file if you live in one state, your contracting company is based in another, and you get into an accident in a third state?

The first step is to notify your employer. They should tell you where to file, or at least clue you into the state by giving you paperwork for that state’s workers’ comp authority.

If your employer is no help but you got injured in the same state where you live, file there. It’s often best to file where you got hurt or sick.

All of this said, there are some times when you could choose between two states and one offers better workers’ comp benefits than another. Talking to a workers’ comp lawyer will get you guidance on the best route to take in your situation.

Payment rates for workers’ comp

Workers’ comp usually pays every week or two with a check that’s worth two-thirds of your average weekly wage. The rates for these lost wage replacement benefits vary by state. There are also maximum and minimum rates in most areas. Find your state payment rate here.

In addition to covering lost income, your employer’s workers’ comp company will pay all medical bills related to your injury. They usually pay your health care providers directly. If you get a bill or insurance denies coverage for care you need, that’s a situation when a lawyer can help.

Will you get a workers’ comp settlement?

Many workers’ comp cases end with a settlement, which is usually a lump-sum payment that should cover your current and future lost income plus the cost of your medical care.

Not all claims end with a settlement but they’re especially common for injuries that require long-term treatment or if your doctor says you’ve recovered as much as possible even though it isn’t your pre-injury condition (a point called maximum medical improvement).

We suggest talking with a workers’ comp lawyer if insurance offers to settle your claim. It’s certainly possible to negotiate a settlement alone but estimating lost wages and the cost of medical care isn’t easy. The last thing you want is to sign an agreement only to find the money runs out sooner than you expected and you have to pay bills out of pocket.

The insurance will also have lawyers who get paid to help the insurer pay you as little as possible. Hiring your own lawyer will level the playing field so you can negotiate a fair settlement for your situation. Workers’ comp lawyers also don’t charge anything upfront. You only pay after you get your settlement.

Learn more: Average Settlements by Injured Body Part

Get answers to your workers’ comp questions

Since trucking is a dangerous profession, a lot of drivers will experience injuries at some point in their lives. And while workers’ comp is a great benefit, navigating the process is often technical and confusing.

Looping in a workers’ comp lawyer can benefit most claimants, even if you never run into clear issues. A lawyer is trained in your state’s laws so they’ll know how to get you the best medical care possible, full payments, and any other types of benefits you’re entitled to while you can’t work.

If you think you don’t want to hire a lawyer because it will be expensive, think again. You don’t have to pay any fee upfront and workers’ comp lawyers only get paid a portion of the benefits they win for you. And since they usually help their clients get significantly more benefits than they otherwise would (the average settlement with an Atticus lawyer is double what people get on their own) you end up making money even after paying the lawyer’s fee.

Atticus can help you understand whether a lawyer could help your claim. Take our quick workers’ comp quiz to get started. Our team will reach out to answer your workers’ comp questions and connect you with a lawyer who’s the right fit for your situation. Talking to us is free and if you decide to work with our lawyer, you pay nothing upfront.

You deserve a fair workers' comp settlement. Atticus can help.

Related resources:

When Will Workers' Comp Offer a Settlement?

Average Workers’ Comp Settlements by Body Part

See what you qualify for

How long ago did you get an injury or illness at work?

A portrait of Atticus Client Advocate Kerry O'Shea.

Kerry O'Shea

Client Advocate

Kerry O'Shea is an Atticus Client Advocate, helping injured workers to navigate the workers' compensation process and get the benefits they deserve.
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