Understanding Owner Operator Motor Truck Cargo Insurance – and Who’s Carmack?

Cargo Image Red Truck

Last Modified: April 1, 2024

“Hmmmm…so if something goes wrong, who IS responsible for all that stuff I’m hauling in the back of my truck?”

The “Cargo” in the back of your truck requires its own type of insurance coverage based on what commodities you’re hauling.


Most Motor Truck Cargo Policies insure the freight for the obvious exposures of theft, fire, collision or striking of a load.    

“Reefer” coverage can be added to protect cargo damaged by a change in temperature from a sudden and accidental breakdown.  (Heads up, Reefer policies will not cover you in the case of poor maintenance of the unit.)


Many commodities are excluded unless specifically endorsed back onto a policy.  Typical examples include art, jewelry, precious or semi-precious metals or alloys, money, contraband, prescription pharmaceuticals, tobacco, spirits, explosive or radioactive material, mobile homes…and more.


Motor Truck Cargo insurance coverage can be purchased at limits as low as $5,000 and as high as $5,000,000, but $100,000 tends to be the most commonly requested limit for general freight.

Typical deductibles for a cargo policy are $1,000. Theft, reefer and commodities endorsed back onto a policy often carry a $2,500 or $5,000 deductible for the riskier exposure.


Many policies also include debris removal and pollution cleanup.  (Picture your overturned unit and your freight scattered across the highway:)

Many policies exclude coverage completely if the Cargo is in the custody of any other carrier, shipping container, is unattended at any time or in storage greater than 72 hours.


Bottom line, clear contracts and fully disclosed commodities and radius will result in fast claims service 99% of the time.

For the typical Independent Contractor, there are 3 factors that can trigger challenges by insurance companies which result in delayed or denied cargo claims:


  1. Previously undisclosed exposure to types of freight
  2. Operating outside reported radius
  3. Questions of care, custody and control of the freight


Which brings us to Carmack!

Way back in 1935 there were already problems with Cargo responsibilities, so Congress passed the Carmack Amendment to achieve uniformity in rules governing interstate shipment.

So it’s FMCSA and Carmack that holds the Motor Carrier liable for freight claims unless he can prove an Act of God, Act of War, Shipper Default, Public Authority or Inherent Vice.


This is where your contracts are so important in the Motor Carrier and Owner Operator relationship.


That’s it…great job!  If you read the other blogs in this series, then you understand the 4 Keys of Owner Operator Truck Insurance.


This 4 part series was designed as elementary Truck Insurance 101 for readers with no prior knowledge of the subject.  The intent was to share familiarity of basic information with a very limited scope of policy language, limitations and exclusions.


For more in depth training, here’s some great FREE HELP for Owner Operators:


John Mueller “The Transportation Station” …Best trucking for hire Motor Carrier and Broker definitions plus help with permits, authorities, licensing and registrations.

SmithMooreLeatherwood “Transportation Webinars”Rob Moseley and Frederic Marcinak are always entertaining…here’s a good one to get you started then just sign up!

Central Analysis Bureau – CAB – Bits & Pieces…Best way to keep up to date on industry changes through short and interesting cases.


…And if you’re serious about fully developing your knowledge on all transportation legal issues in one book, I also highly recommend purchasing:

Henry E Seaton, Esq “Rules of the Road – A Practical Guide to Legal Issues in Truck Transportation” – I keep a copy on my desk for reference….thanks Hank.


….And if you’re NOT at ALL interested in more in depth training and developing your knowledge base:)

…then may I suggest you stick to selecting a TRS Certified Insurance Agent!

*Transportation Risk Specialists are tested, certified and continuously trained by the Motor Carrier Insurance Education Foundation.


Thanks to everyone for sharing this educational chain.  For your quick reference, look for an info graphic summary coming out shortly “4 Keys of Owner Operator Truck Insurance” …now go out and enjoy the rest of your summer!




  • 2002 Founder and CEO of Commercial Insurance Solutions, Inc., Shelly Benisch specializes in providing Commercial Truck Insurance for owner operators and small motor carriers. Both CIS and TRS certified, She also writes a free educational trucking insurance advice blog dedicated to the little guy.

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