What Proof is Needed For Your Claim?
Federal and state oversight of the trucking industry cannot protect you from a dangerous, even deadly, crash with a big rig. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were almost 500,000 police-reported accidents involving large trucks in a recent year. More than 20 percent of these crashes resulted in injury, and more than 4,400 resulted in death.
If you suffered injuries in a big rig accident, you may have the right to recover damages from the trucking company, truck driver, or a third-party. To prove your case, you must gather evidence that paints a complete picture of all the factors that led to the collision. Unfortunately, intentional or inadvertent destruction of documents and data may undermine your claim. You must not hesitate to gather and preserve evidence while records are intact.
Start With the Accident Scene
The accident scene offers your best initial opportunity to gather physical evidence. Authorities will make an on-site investigation, interview the parties and witnesses, and prepare an accident report. This report will describe any citations the police issued. It should also document damage to each vehicle and the relative position of the involved vehicles.
The report may also include observations of spilled loads, roadway debris, skid marks, the position of nearby traffic signals, and physical damage to surroundings. You should get a copy of this report and request corrections if you see inaccuracies. A good report can help form the basis of your claim for damages.
If it is safe to do so, you can use your phone to take photos of the damage to your auto, the truck, and other involved vehicles before police clear the scene. Also, try to snap pictures of the immediate surrounding vicinity. The truck itself may provide many clues about the cause of the truck accident. These clues can disappear forever as insurance adjusters, accident investigators, attorneys, and the trucking company examine the vehicle. You should seek access to the truck before the trucking company moves it or reclaims it.
You should also use your phone or a notepad to jot down everything you can about the collision. You can back up your photos and notes by uploading this information to the cloud, a drive, or your computer.
Also, note any nearby security cameras that may have videotape of the incident. Request footage from these cameras as soon as possible after the crash. Videotapes may override themselves frequently, and you may lose this valuable evidence if you do not act quickly.
Research the Truck’s Maintenance and Inspection Records
FMCSA data reveals almost 3,860,000 violations affecting the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles. Violations included inoperative headlamps and turn signals, worn tires, defective brakes, broken windshield wipers, and damaged or discolored windshields. Your truck accident lawyer can demand the truck’s maintenance and inspection records to look for evidence of violations or a spotty maintenance history.
Were the truck’s tires or windshield wipers ignored when they exhibited wear and tear? Did worn brake pads impair the truck’s braking capacity?
You may also find proof of a persistent mechanical problem. In some cases, maintenance and repair records could indicate a manufacturer’s defect that contributed to the incident.
Federal law requires each trucking company to maintain records documenting the inspection, maintenance, and repair of its fleet. A company must retain these records for one year. However, a company that sells a truck after an accident may destroy these records after only six months. To protect this important information, you should ask the trucking company to preserve and provide you with all maintenance records.
Investigate the Trucker’s Log, Cell Phone Records, and Inspection Reports
Federal law requires electronic logging devices, or ELDs, to track, manage, and record a trucker’s hours of service. This protects the public from tired truckers who might feel tempted to work under pressure to meet tight deadlines. You should demand the driver’s ELD records to determine whether the trucker complied with hours-of-service limitations at the time of the crash. You should also request all modifications that may show retroactive changes made after the accident.
You should also examine the trucker’s cell phone records. These records may show if the driver was texting or surfing the internet instead of focusing on driving. According to the Commercial Carrier Journal, a survey of commercial drivers revealed a disturbing trend in distracted driving. More than 70 percent of survey respondents reported accessing the internet and social media while driving, and another 68 percent engaged in video or facetime chatting.
Federal regulations require each motor carrier to retain all records of duty status and supporting documents for each of its drivers for six months. Supporting documents include trip records and mobile communications records. Every motor carrier must also require its drivers to complete a vehicle inspection report at the end of each workday. Trucking companies must keep a file with the inspection report and certification of any necessary repairs for three months after the reporting date. You must act to preserve these reports and supporting documents before the trucking company destroys them.
Some trucks have cameras that may capture the driver’s actions or view from the cab immediately before the moment of impact. Promptly demand any video that may reveal actions or inaction that contributed to the accident.
Request Access to the Truck’s “Black Box”
Most big rigs on the road have engine control modules, or ECMs. These electronic record keeping devices act like an airplane’s black box. They may reveal important data about the truck’s operation immediately before and at the time of impact. You may uncover information about the driver’s speed, use of cruise control, acceleration and deceleration patterns, and braking patterns.
ECMs may also provide data about the truck’s condition. Was the engine overheated? How was tire pressure? A black box may also allow you to pin down the truck’s precise position when the crash occurred. An ECM may store data for only a limited time. To preserve this potential treasure trove of information, you must demand the data before a trucking company takes control.
An experienced truck accident attorney appreciates the urgency of collecting and preserving evidence. An attorney can write demand letters and, if necessary, pursue a temporary restraining order or other court order to prevent the destruction of evidence. A lawyer can engage experts to download and interpret these electronic records. Good evidence provides the foundation for your case and may improve your chances of receiving fair compensation for your injuries and losses. So don’t hesitate to reach out about your case today you may be running out of time to file a claim?