Bagen Law Firm | May 4, 2023 | Truck Accidents
Semi-trucks, commercial trucks, 18-wheelers, or tractor-trailers—no matter what you call them, are dangerous to everyone on the road. When fully loaded, these massive vehicles can weigh ten times more than an average passenger vehicle. Their significant weight makes the accidents they cause severe.
It takes time and distance to stop such a large vehicle, and disaster often results when there isn’t enough of either. Protecting your rights is critical if you or someone you love suffered injuries in a commercial truck accident. It’s time to secure representation from a well-versed truck accident attorney to help you.
One of the critical steps an attorney can take on your behalf is preserving valuable evidence to prove your truck accident claim. While you may have access to and know about some pieces of evidence in your truck accident claim, an experienced attorney has a deeper understanding of what evidence may be needed to prove your accident and damages. They also have the knowledge and tools to retrieve evidence that other parties may not willfully provide.
If you or someone you love was recently involved in a truck accident, it’s in your best interest to immediately contact a knowledgeable truck accident attorney. Other parties might lose, conceal, or even steal the evidence you need. Your attorney can immediately prevent this and begin collecting what’s necessary for your claim’s success.
Truck Accident Injury Claims Require Evidence
In a personal injury case, the injured party has the burden to prove the facts of the case beyond a preponderance of the evidence. Evidence is imperative to establish the facts, and preserving pieces of physical evidence is still necessary for a successful claim.
A successful truck accident claim must include several pieces of evidence. Without the right evidence, the injured party or their attorney cannot prove that they have an injury. They also might not prove that the injury resulted from the actions or inactions of the other party.
Cases that don’t have enough relevant evidence result in less compensation than victims deserve or might not involve any compensation at all. However, a seasoned truck accident attorney will identify, collect, and preserve crucial pieces of evidence on your behalf, even evidence that you do not have in your possession.
Federal Regulations Governing the Trucking Industry
Unlike other vehicles on the road, commercial truck companies and drivers are subject to federal and state laws of operation. The FMCSA enforces several hundred laws that trucking companies, carriers, and truck drivers must obey. These laws cover all aspects of the trucking industry, from driver training to maintaining their fleet. Failure by the truck driver or trucking company to adhere to these laws is compelling evidence of negligence if a collision occurs.
Federal trucking laws and regulations include:
Hours of Service Regulations
Truck drivers can’t drive after the 14th consecutive hour following ten consecutive hours off duty. For every eight hours of driving, drivers must take at least one 30-minute break. Additionally, drivers can’t drive over 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours over eight straight days.
Strict maintenance minimums exist for commercial trucks. Their drivers must complete daily vehicle inspections and timely repairs. Not properly inspecting a big rig before its road can result in part failure and other related crashes. It’s essential to note that part failures can also allude to manufacturer negligence, creating potential grounds for a product liability claim.
Specific cargo loading rules apply depending on the type of materials and their size and weight. Commercial truckloads can’t exceed certain height and weight limitations. There are also specific considerations for trucks transporting hazardous materials such as chemicals or gasoline. In addition, cargo loaders must obey various load securement laws to prevent accidents and lost loads during transport.
Drug and Alcohol Testing
Truck drivers must comply with pre-hiring drug/alcohol testing, spontaneous tests, and tests required following severe accidents. Most states have a legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for commercial drivers of 0.04 percent. However, even if their BAC isn’t that high, any amount, no matter how small of alcohol or drugs in their system, can indicate an impairment-related accident.
Most commercial truck drivers must maintain electronic logs that are records of their behaviors and activities. The purpose of their logs is to help reduce mistakes, manage fatigue, and circumvent scheduling issues.
In addition, electronic logging devices can provide excellent evidence of negligence if they reveal that a driver broke a rule or wasn’t being truthful on their log. Your truck accident lawyer can obtain these logs and potentially use them to your advantage as evidence in your claim.
When you hire an experienced truck accident lawyer, they can help you determine violations of any FMCSA or state laws that led to your accident. They know that many potential forms of evidence that might support your personal injury claim can be within a trucker’s or trucking company’s logs.
Your attorney can take the necessary legal steps to obtain and study these logs to identify how your truck accident might have happened and who is to blame. Their investigation might reveal that a broken law, such as an hours-of-service violation or improper loading, was the cause of or contributed to your accident.
Evidence that establishes how a truck accident happened and who has legal responsibility for it comes in many different forms. Unfortunately, some evidence belongs to the owners or operators of semi-trucks. As such, injured victims and their families need the help of a skilled semi-truck accident attorney to preserve this evidence as soon as possible after the crash before it is intentionally or unintentionally destroyed or goes missing.
Types of Evidence Your Lawyer Can Help Obtain
Truck Maintenance Records
State and federal regulations require truck operators and owners to keep their equipment in safe working order and save records of doing that work. Maintenance serves an obvious purpose by minimizing big rig breakdowns that can create a danger to others on the roadways.
Unfortunately, some operators and owners cut corners regarding proper maintenance, which can potentially result in truck system failures and injuries or fatalities in an accident.
Like electronic data, maintenance records can assist a truck accident victim’s attorney in investigating the probable causes of a collision. Attorneys are generally required to request these records. Experienced lawyers will know they must request them soon after the accident so that trucking companies don’t attempt to destroy or change them.
Evidence from Onboard Electronic Data Records
Today long-haul trucks typically carry onboard electronic data collection systems.
These systems serve two chief purposes:
- Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) record a driver’s hours of service and monitor their compliance with federal regulations mandating how much time a truck driver can spend behind the wheel before taking a break; and
- Event Data Recorders (EDRs) monitor truck systems and are like the truck industry equivalent of the black box onboard aircraft.
The information these systems collect can establish fault in a big rig accident because they show:
- The truck driver’s work schedule and recent driving history
- The status of critical truck components and systems
- The driver’s actions behind the wheel in the moments before the accident, including the truck’s speed, direction, and braking
- The truck’s crash signature, which is a unique combination of system failures that occur before and at the moment of impact in an accident
- Safety system functions, such as whether the driver was wearing a seatbelt or if the airbags deployed
Information from an ELD and EDR can often be highly valuable in establishing the trucker driver’s fault for causing an accident. As such, many truck drivers and trucking carriers resist handing over that data as evidence until they must do so through a standard legal process known as discovery.
These systems often save recorded data for only a limited time (as little as a month) before recording over it. Trucking companies should back up that data on servers and refrain from recording on the devices of a truck involved in a crash.
However, those reasonable steps don’t always happen. Instead, attorneys representing truck crash victims must act quickly to preserve the data before someone automatically or intentionally deletes it. Of course, lawyers can’t act until a truck crash victim hires them, which is one reason why it’s essential to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible after suffering injuries in any kind of truck accident.
Driver Cell Phone Data
Like almost everyone else, truck drivers have cell phones that automatically collect and store substantial amounts of information about their lives, habits, and movements. Considering this, the data from a trucker’s mobile phone can also be critical in establishing how a truck crash occurred.
For instance, it can reveal:
- The trucker’s moment-by-moment physical location is in a phone’s GPS data, which can often back up the truck’s onboard electronic data collection systems.
- That the trucker used the phone to send a text or make a call in the moments preceding the accident, pointing toward dangerous driver distraction as the cause of the accident
- That the trucker didn’t sleep or rest during their legally required rest breaks, hinting at fatigue as a factor in the crash
- That the trucker had unhealthy habits, like using drugs or alcohol, that may have made them more likely to cause an accident.
Mobile phone data can often give substantial insight about a truck driver that may help explain how an accident happened. But, again, preserving that information typically falls on the crash victim’s lawyer, who quickly acts to ensure the valuable information doesn’t get deleted or wind up missing.
Anytime a truck accident occurs, law enforcement should come to the scene and take a report. This report serves as an official record of the accident. It can also contain other valuable evidence, such as who you can hold at fault, how the accident occurred, and if any drivers received tickets for the accident. While you have the right to obtain a copy of this report on your own, and it’s usually as simple as contacting the responding law enforcement agency, it’s one more thing you shouldn’t have to worry about while recovering from your injuries.
When you have an attorney on your side, they can determine which agency responded to your accident and took the report. They can then take the necessary steps to obtain the report, which will help in their own investigation of the truck accident.
Avoiding Spoliation of Evidence
Your truck accident attorney’s focus isn’t just on gathering evidence but also on ensuring that the evidence you need isn’t lost or damaged. While there are many steps you can take to preserve the evidence in your case, sometimes, pieces of vital evidence will not be in your possession. There is always a risk that convincing evidence in your claim can be lost, altered, discarded, or spoiled in some other way.
Spoliation of evidence refers to evidence that is not available for these reasons. Spoliation of evidence has the potential to decrease the value of your claim substantially. Evidence can become damaged, destroyed, or lost accidentally or intentionally.
One way to preserve evidence that you don’t possess is for your lawyer to send the party possessing the evidence an evidence spoliation letter. A spoliation letter should be sent as soon as possible after the truck accident. Failure to promptly send this letter can result in evidence spoliation before the at-fault party receives your letter—making it even more crucial to hire an attorney immediately after a truck accident.
Schedule a Consultation with a Skilled Truck Accident Attorney Today
Preserving evidence is one of the essential tasks in a truck accident injury claim. A skilled personal injury attorney is the best person to take on this task. The good news is that most personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations and work on contingency, only collecting money from you only if they settle or win your case at trial. Schedule a consultation with a skilled truck accident attorney today.