Evidence in Trucking Cases

All lawsuits start at the exact same place – the evidence. This is especially true in trucking cases, given that the amount of evidence in these types is tremendous in comparison with most other types of automobile wrecks. The first focal points for the use of evidence are generally in regards to identifying potential defendants and insurance coverage, recreating accident logistic recreation, obtaining driver records and logs, and ensuring that the remains of all vehicles are properly preserved.

Preservation of Evidence

It is always extremely important to send notice to the insurance carrier of the truck to preserve evidence. This is especially important in regards to the truck. Ideally the truck will be stored in an easily-accessible facility, so that it is not driven and not tampered with and remains in the exact same state as after the wreck. Preservation of Evidence letters should also always specifically outline electronically stored information that is maintained in a “black box.” Not all trucks have data recording systems, but if they do, the system can sometimes automatically delete data after certain periods of time, or only allow the data to be extracted once. By giving the other side notice to preserve this evidence you avoid taking a chance that the data will be lost forever.

Evidence for Expert

Hiring a forensic expert is a crucial step in any truck accident case given the typically large amount of data that is present. These experts will review several things, including the crash scene, the vehicles, and the “black box” of the truck and other vehicles, if available.

Crash scene – this is crucial for an expert to review if the wreck occurred recently. Here an expert can look for items such as tire marks and debris and take measurements that will help them recreate the scene. This is not always possible however, given that this evidence can quickly fade away over time. Even if some evidence has disappeared over time, it still may be worth an expert’s time to review the scene should road visibility be an issue in that particular accident.

Inspecting the truck – many, though not all, commercial trucks these days contain a “black box” that records speed, brake engagement, clutch engagement, and “hard brake” and “last stop” events. This data can often be extracted and reviewed by the expert in order to recreate the elements of the collision, including speeds, angles, and the point of impact. The “black box” data can also possibly be used to compare to the driver’s written log. This can be helpful for a negligence claim should the driver’s log information not match up with the digitally recorded information, indicating the possible falsification of records. An expert can also examine other parts of the truck, including tires and brakes, to see if they were in proper operating condition.

Lastly, providing the expert with information from the police is important. This includes the police reports, any 911 calls, witness statements, and photos that the police took at the scene. Often times the police will conduct their own investigation in the days immediately following the wreck, and will take pictures that contain important forensic information that the expert will want to review.

Carrier/Owner

Always helpful in trucking cases is to prove negligence on as many parties as possible – including not only the driver, but more importantly, the owning company. The policies and procedures of this company as it relates to hiring, training, safety, and maintenance all greatly impact the prospects of a lawsuit.

Safety and training is typically the most important item to look at here – The plaintiff’s attorney will need to gather all company safety manuals for review of the company policies. If the company held safety seminars, what materials were provided there? Were attendance lists maintained? How often does the company make its drivers attend any type of safety class? Was discipline handed out for drivers that violated things such as speed limits and mandatory rest time, or were drivers rewarded for finishing routes as quickly as possible, with incentives placed on fast delivery over potential safety?

In regards to hiring, one can look to see if the company had formal hiring guidelines – did it conduct background checks or follow up on employee histories with the Department of Transportation? Does the company have a history of hiring drivers with bad driving records? Did they follow up to ensure all drivers held a current commercial driver’s license?

Lastly, one can look at the accident history and the lawsuit history of the owning company to dig up other potential issues. At the least, these may give an attorney insight as to other common problems that the company has faced, and could identify potential legal issues that may have not yet occurred to the handling attorney.

Driver

Another important focal point for evidence is going to relate to the truck driver. Especially when pursuing a negligence claim, the Plaintiff’s attorney will look for as much evidence as possible to show that perhaps the driver was not following all trucking regulations by the book. This can take many forms: was the driver using a phone or other electronic device? Did the driver take an appropriate amount of breaks and sufficiently rest? Was the driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol? All of these are closely regulated by federal government guidelines. An attorney can answer these questions by looking at the driver’s phone records, pick-up and delivery records, delivery manifests, fuel receipts, weigh tickets, driver credit card receipts, and expense sheets, among other things. The driver’s log also contains important information about exactly where and when the driver stopped, and for how long, which is especially important to review to ensure that the driver was well-rested and not fatigued.

Additionally, it is crucial to look at safety information for the driver? Did they regularly attend safety training? Had they been involved in previous wrecks? Was a background check run as part of the hiring procedure? Did they have any relevant medical issues? Had the driver been written up for any company violations or worker’s compensation issues? This information can often be gathered from the employer, and can be quite extensive. The Plaintiff’s attorney will also want to look at all correspondence between the company and the driver to root out any possible employment issues.

Truck

Looking at the truck itself can lead an attorney to one of the most important pieces of information: ownership. Finding out the owner of the truck will lead to finding out who is insuring the truck, and could possibly reveal new Defendants. You can start here by looking at and researching the license plates for both the truck and the trailer, in addition to the registration and titles.

Also key is to gather information on the history of the truck and trailer to review maintenance and repair history. If a truck was not properly maintained and repairs were not properly addressed, it becomes easier to argue that the truck’s owner company was negligent in its business practices. Annual inspection reports, pre-trip inspection reports, repair invoices, and reports of the vehicle’s repair history are also commonly maintained by the owning companies. All of these will also give you pertinent information on the truck’s condition, and the owner’s business practices as it relates to proper vehicle upkeep.

 

Statistics for Commercial Moving Vehicle Accidents

Dallas County

  • 2015
    • 27 fatal crashes – 31 fatalities
    • 68 incapacitating crashes – 81 incapacitating injuries
    • 3,598 total crashes involving CMVs
  • 2014
    • 23 fatal crashes – 26 fatalities
    • 78 incapacitating crashes – 98 incapacitating injuries
    • 3,180 total crashes involving CMVs
  • 2013
    • 18 fatal crashes – 21 fatalities
    • 67 incapacitating crashes – 95 incapacitating injuries
    • 2,971 total crashes involving CMVs
  • 2012
    • 15 fatal crashes – 15 fatalities
    • 66 incapacitating crashes – 74 incapacitating injuries
    • 2,797 total crashes involving CMVs
  • 2011
    • 21 fatal crashes – 22 fatalities
    • 58 incapacitating crashes – 66 incapacitating injuries
    • 2,616 total crashes involving CMVs

 

Tarrant County

  • 2015
    • 12 fatal crashes – 16 fatalities
    • 57 incapacitating crashes – 75 incapacitating injuries
    • 2,054 total crashes involving CMVs
  • 2014
    • 16 fatal crashes – 16 fatalities
    • 55 incapacitating crashes – 66 incapacitating injuries
    • 1,967 total crashes involving CMVs
  •  2013
    •  9 fatal crashes – 11 fatalities
    • 53 incapacitating crashes – 67 incapacitating injuries
    • 1,985 total crashes involving CMVs
  • 2012
    • 14 fatal crashes – 15 fatalities
    • 63 incapacitating crashes – 85 incapacitating injuries
    • 1,787 total crashes involving CMVs
  • 2011
    • 13 fatal crashes – 14 fatalities
    • 47 incapacitating crashes – 55 incapacitating injuries
    • 1,683 total crashes involving CMVs

 

Travis County

  • 2015
    • 13 fatal crashes – 15 fatalities
    • 29 incapacitating crashes – 36 incapacitating injuries
    • 630 total crashes involving CMVs
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