Being in any type of motor vehicle accident is traumatic, but a truck accident can cause catastrophic injuries. In one recent year, 4,761 people died in crashes involving large trucks. Seventy-two percent of people killed in large-truck crashes were occupants of other vehicles. The evidence left behind after a trucking accident provides essential explanations as to what happened and why.
What Are the Causes of Truck Accidents?
Truck accidents cause more serious injuries than car accidents. Large trucks often weigh 20 to 30 times more than passenger vehicles; when an accident occurs, the injuries are often catastrophic. One of several factors, or a combination of factors, may cause these types of horrifying accidents, such as truck malfunctions or driver error.
Below we discuss some of the most common causes of truck accidents.
- Braking capability is a critical factor in some truck accidents. The stopping distance for a loaded tractor-trailer is significantly farther (around 20 to 40 percent more) than stopping a car. The problem is worse when weather conditions cause slippery roads or when brakes are not properly maintained. When traveling at highway speeds in good road conditions, a loaded truck needs the distance of nearly two football fields to come to a complete stop. Unsurprisingly, rear-end collisions are common types of tractor-trailer accidents.
- Commercial trucks sit higher off the ground than passenger vehicles. The mismatched heights between the vehicles can result in underride crashes. These are horrifying crashes in which the smaller vehicle, usually a passenger car, goes underneath the truck or trailer. Rear and side underride guards on large trucks reduce the likelihood of such accidents.
- Large trucks are prone to rollovers while braking and when involved in crashes. Electronic stability controls use sensors to anticipate truck instability. Recent regulations requiring these electronic stability controls may help reduce rollover accidents in the future.
- Overworked and fatigued truck drivers are another common cause of accidents. Strict federal regulations govern how long a trucker can drive without a break. However, drivers sometimes violate the regulations on their own or due to pressures from the trucking company. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, truckers who have been driving for more than eight hours have double the risk of an accident. Federal law now requires electronic logging devices.
- Drinking and drug use. Federal regulations require driver testing before employment, as well as additional random testing.
- Reckless driving and speeding contribute to many truck accidents.
- Defective truck components, such as bad brakes or tires, can cause accidents.
- Dangerous road conditions can cause a truck crash. These may include not only weather conditions but also hazards on the roadway.
- Improperly loaded or unsecured cargo can shift or break loose.
- Trucks are large and complicated vehicles, so regular maintenance is essential.
- Inadequately or improperly trained truck drivers may cause accidents.
Compensation for a Truck Accident
Truck accidents usually cause serious injuries or death. Therefore, victims of truck accidents are left to deal with personal suffering as well as huge financial losses. These individuals may also be entitled to compensation for non-monetary damages, such as pain and suffering.
Several parties may face liability following a truck accident, including but not limited to:
- The truck driver
- The trucking company or the trucker’s employer
- The truck’s manufacturer
- Truck parts manufacturing companies
- Companies who performed maintenance or repairs on the truck or trailer
- The company who loaded or shipped the freight
As with any legal claim, the injured person must prove that the person or entity that caused the accident was negligent, reckless, or intentionally did something wrong. Collecting and preserving evidence is essential to proving liability but also to determine the extent of the injured person’s losses. The time to begin this process is right after the crash. Unfortunately, this is when an accident victim may be overwhelmed by the stress of the crash and the effects of the injuries. However, if there is a delay in preserving important evidence, it could be lost or destroyed forever.
What Evidence Should Be Preserved?
Ensure that all evidence stays in its original condition and is not lost—and the sooner you hire a truck accident lawyer, the sooner that will happen. Most commercial trucks have a data recording and storage device, or a “black box,” similar to those used on airplanes. The federal government regulates the trucking industry extensively. Depending on the circumstances, government entities and insurance companies may investigate a crash. FMCSA classifies truck crashes as either preventable (which means the driver or carrier may be liable) or non-preventable.
In addition to the truck itself and its black box, your attorney will want to preserve electronic and paper records that all truckers and motor carriers keep, including records of:
- Daily inspections
- Roadside inspections
- Annual inspections
- The trucker’s employment and training
- Trucker’s daily logs
- Complaints regarding the driver
Because each type of record has a time limit for required retention, these records aren’t available forever. Critical records may include:
- Reports filed by the trucker, such as daily inspection reports. These reports may contain valuable information about the truck, the driver, the carrier, the job, and the crash.
- Evidence relating to the truck, such as maintenance and repair records, electronic onboard recorder data, GPS data, and the truck itself.
- Evidence about the driver, such as credentials, employment history, driving record, training records, medical examinations, drug tests, and driving log.
- Evidence relating to the truck company, such as employee handbooks, employee policy records, company safety records, and out-of-service orders.
Data storage units can give you in-depth information about the truck and what was going on just before the collision, including:
- The trucker’s speed or variations in speed
- The truck’s gear shifts
- When the trucker braked
- The length of time the trucker was driving
- The truck’s GPS location
- Communications between the trucker and trucking company
Gathering and Preserving Evidence
Usually, there is far more evidence available in a truck crash than in a typical car wreck. The key is to act quickly, while the evidence still exists.
Start by seeking prompt medical attention. Of course, this is important for your health. Following an accident, you may have injuries the symptoms of which have not yet appeared. However, medical attention is also crucial to documenting your accident-related injuries and assuring that details regarding their extent and severity are all in your medical records.
Then, your truck accident lawyer can do the following:
Request a Copy of the Police Accident Report
The accident report contains a wealth of information. These may include law enforcement officials’ fault findings; the names, contact information and statements of witnesses; any citations issued or arrests made immediately after the accident; and much more.
These letters, also known as spoliation letters, should be sent immediately—this is something your truck accident lawyer can do, and the sooner you hire one the quicker these letters can go out. They are formal written notices directing some party to preserve all relevant evidence related to a legal claim arising from the accident. It may also mention specific evidence to preserve. The letters generally warn against tampering, hiding, or destroying evidence.
Attorneys often use these letters in truck accident claims since the trucking company has access to a variety of records, documentation, and information. Your attorney should send these letters to every potential defendant or other parties that may have important evidence in their possession.
Send these letters right away because state and federal trucking regulations only require motor carriers to retain records for a certain period of time. For example, federal regulations require the retention of certain evidence for six months. A preservation letter can prevent motor carriers from destroying important evidence once the record-keeping time period has expired. This letter notifies the motor carrier that there is an impending case and that the carrier must keep all potentially important evidence.
If the trucking company fails to preserve important evidence related to your claim, the company could face losing in court, as well as other charges or sanctions. If the evidence does disappear, the preservation letters can help prove that the company was notified of the request to preserve the evidence.
Locate and Secure the Truck
The insurance company will be on the scene immediately, examining, moving, and securing the truck. You will want your own expert to inspect the vehicle to determine what happened.
Revisit the Accident Scene
Revisiting the accident scene may reveal evidence that went unnoticed immediately after the crash, such as tire tread marks, crash debris, or nearby surveillance cameras that may have recorded the accident.
These days, almost every commercial semi-truck has a “black box,” or event data recorder device. Black boxes are also known as event data recorders (EDRs) or electronic control modules (ECMs). These devices record and retain data regarding the technical vehicle and occupant information of a vehicle involved in a near-collision or a collision.
The data recorded may include:
- Driver inputs.
- Pre-crash vehicle dynamics and the system status before the collision.
- A vehicle crash signature
- Restraint use and deployment status
- Post-collision data
Most EDRs record data for 30 days, and then the information is recorded over. However, the recording time period may be shorter in older models. Your attorney may wish to hire an expert to be present for the download of the electronic data to avoid any downloading problems that may destroy evidence.
The most critical information from the black boxes is the data related to the crash. The black box can show the speed at impact, for example. This information can tell you the speed before impact, details related to brake actuation, clutch engagement, throttle position, and more.
The black box also records a “hard brake” event, which is when a driver applies more force than normal to a truck’s brakes. This information may conflict with the driver’s rest break logs. In addition, it records the last stop when the engine was turned off. However, to preserve the last stop record, it is important to ensure that a truck is not turned on and driven after an accident.
Another form of electronic data is from satellite tracking. GPS units are used in many ways today. Trucking companies often install them so that they can keep track of their fleets of trucks and improve productivity. Satellite tracking information is also useful in reconstructing the events leading up to the accident, such as the trip route, where the driver’s destination, how long he had really been driving that day, and how long he drove the day before.
Sometimes, attorneys combine the GPS tracking data with other evidence, such as cell phone records or video camera footage, to prove negligence even more conclusively. Such evidence may include, for instance, data to show that a driver received a distracting cell phone call at the time of the accident. One can uncover this information from several different sources: the truck’s online navigation system, the company records, or the satellite company itself.
Other Useful Information
Federal regulations require drivers to keep detailed logs of how much time they spend on the road, whether driving or resting during the entire trip. Dispatch records will reveal a lot about both the trip and the job. Perhaps the driver was sent out on a job that would have necessitated breaking the driving time limits. Phone records can help contradict driver logs and also show whether the driver was using his or her phone at the time of the accident.
Keep All Documents Safe
The paperwork will pile up quickly. Most people find it easiest to keep all documentation in a single location, such as a storage bin or large binder, but be sure to keep it in a safe place regardless. You may wish to create a backup record by scanning each item to develop an electronic file version. This makes everything easily accessible and will also prove useful in case the physical copies get lost or destroyed.
Consult a Truck Accident Attorney
The law sets strict time limits for filing lawsuits. Truck accident claims are usually complicated, potentially involving detailed investigations. If you or a loved one were in a truck accident, consult an experienced truck accident attorney. A truck accident lawyer can evaluate your case, advise you of your legal options, and guide you through the process of seeking compensation.
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