Getting into a large truck accident can be scary and daunting when dealing with injuries and property damage. In 2020, large trucks were responsible for 4,842 fatalities in the United States. After an accident, determining liability is often the primary concern, and there can be a lot of conflicting information when trying to figure out the next steps. The following article provides tips and recommendations for compiling compelling truck accident evidence when filing a claim. It also contains helpful advice from attorneys on the most common evidence you should expect to collect during your lawsuit.
The Steps of an Effective Truck Accident Investigation
The key to any effective truck accident investigation starts with your phone. Documentation is the number one way to ensure a detailed record of the accident’s aftermath and expedite the investigation. If you decide to retain a lawyer, this evidence is gathered by an attorney during the discovery process. The semi-truck company should send an investigator relatively quickly to examine the scene of the accident and gather evidence. Still, it’s helpful to have your own account and the possible conditions that led to the accident.
1. Report the accident immediately
Report the accident immediately to your insurance companies and other necessary parties. The trucking company will assign the claim to a company representative and begin their investigation immediately to secure time-sensitive evidence from the scene. Many states also have laws that require a person to submit an accident report to their local DMV, so check with your local regulations to make sure you’re in compliance.
2. Document everything
Write down everything you remember about the accident in a central location that’s easy to access, such as a Notes app or notebook. Take photos and videos of the scene. Below is a list of the common types of evidence that insurance companies and lawyers look for when building a claim.
3. Talk to Witnesses
Identify potential witnesses and gather their statements for your records. All first responders, police officers, passersby, and anyone present at the scene should be interviewed and asked to provide their account of the incident. Keep a log of who you speak to, and their contact information should you need to follow up with them in the future.
4. Speak with a Doctor
If bodily injuries have been suffered, go to a doctor as soon as possible. Get a copy of the records and distribute them to the appropriate parties. Take photos and notes of continuing medical issues resulting from the accident, like whiplash that can appear days and weeks after the accident.
Most Common Types of Evidence Presented During a Truck Accident Lawsuit
It’s imperative to begin collecting evidence immediately when you’re in any kind of accident. Some evidence is time-sensitive and won’t be around forever. Evidence, like a video that shows the unique weather conditions of the day and time the accident occurred, can be invaluable in pleading your case and getting the outcome you desire. Trucking companies won’t wait to start their independent investigation, so it’s important to understand the most common types of evidence you’ll need to present in a truck collision lawsuit.
Some evidence is common to all types of traffic accident investigations, including:
Injured parties have the right to obtain their own accident report. However, they should be aware that police reports are not intended to establish liability in civil court and that relying solely on them can be a costly mistake.
Photos of vehicle damage, skid marks, and debris are extremely relevant to a traffic claim. Don’t forget to document other relevant information about the weather conditions and variations in the traffic pattern.
Cell phone distraction is one of the leading causes of traffic accidents in the United States. In 2020, 3,142 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Since distracted driving is a common cause of accidents, it is likely that both your cell phone data and the truck driver's data will be requested as evidence. Phone records can help ascertain if someone was distracted by phone use at the time of an accident.
Statements from observers can help corroborate accounts of an accident.
Medical records and bills
A licensed physician can substantiate an official medical record detailing the injuries sustained in the accident. This will ultimately assist in determining the amount of compensation you are entitled to. However, it is important to note that if the claimant has a history of chronic pain or an injury caused by a prior injury, this may significantly affect how much compensation can be obtained.
Truck collisions involving commercial trucks are more complicated and can be trickier to navigate. An experienced truck accident attorney can help you assemble evidence and use it to your benefit. A specialist attorney can identify violations of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations that govern commercial trucking.
Evidence Specific to Semi-Truck Accidents
Common pieces of evidence specific to large semi-truck accidents may include:
The trucker’s log book contains key information on break lengths and intervals. This evidence may demonstrate a violation of FMCSA regulations on hours of service.
Truckers have been known to falsify their logbooks to avoid liability. An experienced attorney will cross reference the logbook details with receipts from gas, food, and lodging purchases.
Black boxes and dash cameras
Black box data provides a record of crucial details like speed, brake application, and driving time. Some cabs are also fitted with cameras to record what happened in the moments before an accident, so it’s important to check with the insurance company for a copy of any dash cam data.
Truck drivers must conduct inspections daily and before and after every trip. These records will show if there was a maintenance issue that should have been fixed before the truck hit the road again.
Trucking companies must comply with FMCSA regulations around maintenance and repair. A truck accident lawyer will review maintenance records to see if they adhered to these rules.
Emails, text messages, and other forms of communication can represent a font of information that may be helpful in a legal claim. This can include messages urging the driver to work longer hours or continue driving when there was a maintenance issue.
Alcohol and drug testing
Testing records can be used to determine substance abuse issues and whether the driver was intoxicated at the time of the crash. If the responding officers suspect that alcohol has played a role in the collision, they’ll conduct a breathalyzer at the scene and record the results in the police report.
In cases where the fault may lie with the shipper, these records can be used to support their claim.
Sworn testimony from the truck driver or company may be a critical piece of evidence in the event of a claim. Likely, setting up depositions is a step you’d take with an attorney, which is why it’s equally important to bring your own witness statements.
An experienced truck accident lawyer can help you identify and collect the evidence needed to support your claim and present it in a persuasive and effective manner. Talk to a specialist personal injury attorney in your area to find out if you have a claim.
How Liability is Determined in Truck Accident Lawsuits
Determining liability in a truck accident can be complex and largely depends on the specific circumstances of the accident. In general, liability is determined based on the principles of negligence. Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm to another person or property. In a truck accident, this means that the person or party determined to be negligent is the one who failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the accident from occurring in the first place.
To determine liability, it will be necessary to investigate the accident in order to gather evidence and establish what actually transpired. This may involve collecting and analyzing accident reports, eyewitness statements, and physical evidence from the scene of the accident. It may also include reconstructing the accident to determine the cause and who was at fault.
Truck accidents are typically more complicated than other types of road crashes. There are often a greater number of parties involved, including:
The trucking company: The company that employs the driver may be at fault if it can be shown that they cut corners regarding safety. This can include incomplete or flawed inspections of cargo or machinery; unrealistic deadlines or workload expectations placed on drivers; shoddy maintenance practices; or faulty equipment provided to the driver.
The driver: Truck drivers may hold the liability if they broke the law or failed to resolve any technical problems they were aware of. An experienced truck accident attorney will examine the evidence to determine liability on the part of the driver
The shipper or manufacturer: Some truck accidents impact the truck’s cargo. Suppose the loader did not fully inspect the cargo and secure it properly. In that case, the loader may become liable when the boxes or equipment falls off and damages another vehicle or causes injury.
Resources for Victims of Semi-Truck Accidents
If you retain representation, your attorney will be your best available resource. However, there are resources available that anyone can benefit from. When it comes to supporting a claim and compiling large truck accident evidence, you should not pay out of pocket for reliable information and access to resources that can help you during the legal process. From requesting police reports to researching the rules and regulations large trucks have to abide by, below are three free and valuable resources for dealing with a large truck accident claim.
Request police reports
Depending on your city, you or your attorney will want to submit a public records request for the police’s accident report. Submitting a request directly to the issuing police department is also an adequate alternative if you know the responding officers’ precinct. Depending on the jurisdiction, public records requests can be made in person, by mail, or online. A small fee may be charged for the request and most requests come back within a few days. If time is of the essence, most cities offer an expedited rate so that you can receive that police report as soon as possible. Be advised that although police officers may detail specifics that they believe contributed to the accident, such as the road/weather conditions or skid marks, these observations are seen as the officer’s opinion and are not binding in terms of liability.
Research FMCSA regulations
By law, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration must provide appropriate copies of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Volumes can be acquired at many local libraries or viewed online here on their eCFR system. The eCFR system makes it relatively easy to access recent updates to the rules that physical copies may not have. On the electronic version, you can see when the change took effect and the impact on current regulations. Additionally, the online system allows you to keyword search for pertinent information, making it much more accessible for laypeople to find the material they need.
Support claim with statistics
If your accident involves a commercial truck, such as a delivery truck or 18-wheeler, you’ll have to work with your insurance provider. To better prepare your claim, check out the Insurance Information Institute (III), an unaffiliated organization dedicated to informing and empowering consumers. Their site features unbiased information on highway safety, managing a large truck claim, and fatality statistics. Under the “large trucks” section, there are safety ratings, regulatory policies, and related safety information that can substantiate your claim and put you in touch with other non-governmental resources.
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