If you are involved in a truck accident, being completely in the right does not mean you will automatically receive a fair settlement.
The truck driver might be at fault, but It might be determined that others may hold some responsibility too. Various people and multiple entities could be held accountable. Evidence needs to be located quickly and preserved for later proceedings.
It may not be obvious to the police or the other party that you were not at fault. Even assuming it is clear the other party was at fault, you cannot rely on the insurance companies to calculate what you have lost and what expenses you will incur due to the accident. These types of cases may involve powerful law firms representing mega corporations. You must take steps to ensure that you have a fair chance to receive equitable compensation.
Remember not to give any statement to, or sign anything from, an insurance adjuster without consulting your own attorney. Only then will you have someone looking out for your best interest. Rather than respond to your insurance company’s request immediately, it may be better to ask for an appointment with them to allow you plenty of time to contact your lawyer to get advice. This admonition includes not signing a medical release, a property release, or any type of settlement. It may not be possible to fix such an error later.
Determine Who Is At Fault
Someone may be held responsible. It does not matter if that party is the owner of a truck line, an independent owner/operator, or a governmental entity. The legal system is available to you to ensure that justice is served.
A skilled legal team can help establish who was in the wrong, or at least cause a doubt that you were completely in the wrong. To help you surmount these challenges, you should contact a personal injury lawyer that is experienced in truck accident cases to help build the strongest case possible in your favor. They will have the training, knowledge, and staffing to assemble a team of personnel and experts to dig and find every scrap of beneficial evidence to present your best case against the other parties.
Any accident involves analyzing a great deal of physical evidence before, during, and after the crash. Initial police investigators will do their job at the scene, but interpreting specific damage to the vehicles and injuries to the passengers will likely require specialists, just as it may with other data that is recovered. Things are not always as they seem.
One way to avoid inaccuracy in truck accident evidence is through a spoliation letter, which is something your truck accident attorney will compose and send to the trucking company. It is designed to keep the company from destroying any evidence, especially since some records only have to be legally retained for six months. A spoliation letter lets the company know that legal action is being taken. It also issues a demand that all evidence (which is usually listed in the letter) be preserved. If there are documents related to the accident, such as a police report, maintenance records or driver’s condition, those may be attached to the letter.
This is a very important step to make certain the documents are kept available. In fact, if it is determined that records were destroyed after notice was given, a jury could be told to assume that those documents were detrimental to the companies involved.
At The Scene
If you are in an accident, there is a limit to what you can do at the scene if you are injured or getting help for your passengers. It would be ideal to call your attorney and have them send investigators on your behalf to start looking for evidence of how the accident occurred and who caused it. If you do not have an attorney to call, and you have the presence of mind to look around yourself, it would be greatly helpful.
If the police are taking pictures, don’t rely just on them. Their photos may be helpful, but they are not being taken to put your case in the best light. If you can, take your own photos. Many people have cameras on their cell phones, so use them. If you have video recording capability, use that also. Take pictures of the truck driver and all victims. Note what condition they appear to be in.
Look for skid marks. Show the beginning and end with landmarks in the photos, and which vehicle made them. Take pictures of any injuries, such as lacerations, abrasions, or broken bones—all from the scene. Look for debris, and use a scale of some sort. For a close-up photo of an item, you can use something of a standard size to show the relative size of the object you are photographing. One example would be a dollar bill or a coin. You want to use an object that everyone is familiar with and could easily replicate. If you use this technique, take one photograph with the dollar bill and one without it, which prevents someone from saying that you used the dollar bill to hide something important.
Look for witnesses. Did anyone run over to help you? Anyone standing around that saw the whole thing? Obtain their contact information and cooperation. Establish a rapport with them, thank them, and explain how important it is for them to be available later on if necessary. Explain that you need their help.
Knowing what to look for and who to ask is why experts are needed to collect all the available evidence to make certain your case is as strong as possible. Chances are you and your passengers were in shock or too injured to collect evidence. Now your legal team will need to reconstruct the accident and look for probable causes.
Types of Evidence
Here are some types of evidence that need to be recovered from a typical truck accident. Some will be acquired at the scene. Others will need to be demanded from the trucking company or government agencies that regulate the industry. Your attorney will gather this information for you, so you can concentrate on taking care of yourself and your loved ones.
- Photographs taken at the accident scene
- The police accident report
- Written statements from everyone involved
- Written statements from all witnesses
- Written statements from persons involved in the maintenance of the truck
- Written statements from persons who may have knowledge about the truck driver’s actions before the accident
- Hospital and doctor records
- Prior medical records of the truck driver to find out if there may have been underlying medical problems that contributed to the accident
- Locating results of breath or blood tests taken immediately after the accident to see if the driver may have been under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or even prescription medication, which may have caused drowsiness or a loss of physical abilities
- Accident reconstruction specialists
- Recovery of data from onboard devices, such as an Event Data Recorder, an Electronic On-Board Data Recorder, an Easton VORAD crash avoidance system, a GPS, or even mobile phones. (All these devices can assist in locking down times, locations, braking times, vehicle speed, hours of service, time of cell phone calls, or texting.)
- The truck driver’s logbook (delays because of traffic, mechanical breakdowns, or loading and unloading might put time pressure on the driver to speed to make up for the time lost).
- The truck driver’s driving history and training records
- The truck driver’s personnel file
- The driver’s cellphone records. Was he texting, using email or GPS while driving?
- Contracts between the company and the trucker
- Proof of insurance
- Shipping records
- Locating the Drug and Alcohol policy of the trucking company as required by the FMCSA
- Establishing that the Drug and Alcohol policy was provided to the driver through a receipt signed by the driver
- Records of the FMCSA involving the trucker and the trucking company
- All correspondence between the trucking company and the FMCSA
- Locating and preserving surveillance video that may show important information before or during the crash
- In addition, if any vehicle in the accident was disabled and towed from the scene and the truck driver was cited, a breath or blood test would be required. If a citation was not issued, there would be no requirement for a blood or breath test.
Other Investigative Avenues
Interviews must be taken as soon as possible to guard against the possibility of memories fading or changing over time. It is also possible that a trucking company might try to influence the testimony of witnesses to reduce their potential for liability.
As the case progresses, it may be determined that sworn depositions need to be taken with a stenographer. It may be decided that these should be videotaped. No matter how it is done, the testimony of the witnesses is given under oath and recorded. If the interview is videotaped, experts will then be able to review it and assess the credibility of a witness. For example, a weak witness might be overwhelmed by all the people present and give conflicting testimony from an earlier interview. They may be easily intimidated by the opposing attorney, or feel uncomfortable speaking in a public courtroom. If they get flustered, they just may not be believable.
Manufacturing defects in the truck, missing or damaged road signs, roads that were not repaired, an improperly secured load, driving too long without a break, driving while drinking, debris in the road from another vehicle, the improper action of a driver of another vehicle, a mechanical defect, and improper or missing maintenance can all cause accidents.
The truckers themselves are certainly known to bend and break these rules, but they are not the only ones. The trucking company or the shipping companies may impose unreasonable delivery requirements, so the driver has little choice but to violate the rules in an effort to meet deadlines.
In addition, if the trucking company kept a driver employed when they knew that person had, for instance, a history of alcohol or drug abuse, the company may be more clearly liable.
If the truck is loaded with hazardous materials or chemicals, it must have proper signage displayed, and the driver must be properly notified. If either of those are lacking, liability may attach to the trucking company, the shipping company, the shipper, or the driver. This area can be very complicated and may require experts to sort out everything.
In fact, a thorough investigation may turn up a pattern of abuse by either the trucking company or the driver. With evidence showing a systematic and repeating problem, they may be more inclined to make a fair settlement so that this pattern does not become well known.
A great number of items must be completed as rapidly as possible, which is why truck accident personal injury attorneys may have an entire staff of assistants and specialized investigators to handle these chores.
All these rules make for a complicated system, but they are designed to protect the motoring public. If these rules are violated, many people will be in danger. It may take a skilled team of professionals to ferret out the violations.
Any number of primary causes of an accident may be due to negligence on the part of the driver, the trucking company, their employees, or even a loading company. These include speeding, inattention, texting, equipment failure, falling asleep while driving, and drug or alcohol abuse, tailgating, or carrying a load that is too heavy. An expert investigation may be needed to determine all the causes and responsibilities.
Other parties that could be liable are the leasing company of the truck, the leasing company of the trailer, or the company that owned the equipment. Several companies could be involved. The driver could also be responsible if that person took a vehicle out on the road knowing that repairs were required but had not been completed. Because of these types of situations, many different people and organizations could be involved in a single chain of events that led to an accident.
If necessary, these types of entanglements must be sorted out by personnel experienced in establishing these connections. It is a difficult process and requires people who specialize in compiling this type of information.
An Attorney’s Role on Your Behalf
Your attorney’s job is to collect all the available evidence and present your demand for compensation to the opposing side in an effort to reach an agreement on what should be considered a fair arrangement. If no agreement is possible, you may elect to have a civil trial to try to collect what your attorney believes you should receive.
You can see how a commercial truck driver, the employer, other employees, or the shipper can easily be negligent, causing or contributing to an accident. There are many possibilities for negligence to have occurred on their part. Your attorney will dig for information to prove they were at fault and liable for your damages.
If you were truly the only driver at fault, and the evidence strongly proves that, it is unethical and illegal to file a false claim. It may turn out that you need a defense attorney to protect your rights if you are charged with a DUI or ticketed for running a light or causing the accident in some other way. However, you should always seek legal counsel to get an objective professional assessment of the circumstances surrounding your accident.
The parties at fault and their insurance companies will try their best to avoid paying anything or at least reduce the amount to be paid to a bare minimum. You can be sure they will do everything they can to pay you as little as possible.
Choosing an Attorney
When evaluating and choosing an attorney, ask about their prior experiences with truck accident cases and their success rate. Ask if they normally settle out of court, or if they have been successful going to trial. Most personal injury cases are accepted on a contingency basis, meaning the attorney is accepting the risk because of confidence in winning a settlement, so you will not have to pay anything unless they win compensation for you. Their compensation will come out of your settlement or court award.
A Winning Team
You need an attorney with the knowledge and resources to properly investigate such an accident. It also means choosing an attorney who has specific experience with truck and large vehicle accidents. This is to guarantee that your best interests are served.
A highly qualified attorney will assess all the components of the accident and evaluate the potential of your claim. He or she will be able to examine your specific case and arrive at a just and fair figure for the items that apply and make a decision on how best to proceed. They should have the resources to conduct a complete investigation as well as hiring any necessary experts to investigate or analyze whatever is found. It is of little use to have all the evidence if there is not enough money to pay experts to present it to a jury.
If the law firm settles all their cases out of court, it could be a warning sign that they are just looking for the easy way out. If the attorney is not afraid to go to court, and has been successful at trial, insurance companies might consider them much more of a threat because of the potential of a large jury award and be willing to settle out of court.
A trial may seem to be the answer, but it will likely be an expensive proposition (possibly more than $100,000). It will probably take a lot of time also—taking a considerable length of time from initial preparations, to the conclusion because courts are all behind in their workload. Your attorney will present the probabilities and the expenses as well as the pros and cons to help you decide your best course of action considering the risks and rewards of a settlement versus going to court. A settlement allows you to know what you are getting and to get paid sooner, but you won’t know if you would have won more if the case had gone to trial. Pushing to trial is a decision you will need to make if a settlement is offered, and your lawyer will help you consider both options.
Negotiation is also a very important part of the process. You will need someone who is well versed in the law and can provide the best presentation of the facts that are most advantageous to you; someone who knows the best tactics to use when dealing with other professionals who are representing their clients. For instance, the more driver or vehicle violations that can be uncovered, the stronger position your attorney will have in negotiating a settlement for you.
A good attorney and his/her staff will put together your case to demonstrate what you will need to compensate you for your current and future expenses. They will investigate and analyze every possibility and project what you will need to protect your future and win what is really owed to you.
At your first consultation let them explain how they approach each case, how they understand the necessary methods of collecting evidence, where to look for it, how to analyze the records. They may tell you when court orders are needed, which would include the truck driver’s driving and medical history, how they will determine all the potential parties that could be liable, and find documentation on training, maintenance history, and records of any violations.
After the consultation, ask yourself:
- Were you treated with respect, politely and professionally?
- Did they listen to you and answer your questions as well as explain how they will handle your case?
- Did they give evidence of their successes with previous truck accident cases similar to yours?
- Did they demonstrate that they have the resources to do a thorough investigation, hire professional witnesses and stick with your case until it is settled or brought through trial?
Remember that the American justice system allows you only one chance to prove you should receive compensation. Generally, you are not allowed to retry the case a couple of years from now when it may be determined that another surgery is needed or that your health has become much worse than the experts predicted. Follow these steps to protect your rights and get the compensation you need to take care of yourself and your family until you are well again.