Trucking collisions – crashes that involve commercial vehicles, delivery trucks, 18 wheelers, buses, and other larger scale vehicles – are different than a typical car crash. The amount of evidence, both the paper trail and the electronic fingerprints left behind, dwarf what we see in a car wreck. This evidence is invaluable in uncovering other defendants, developing theories of liability, and countering accusations of comparative fault. But to use the evidence, you must get it. And to get the evidence, it must still exist.
Time is of the essence in trucking cases. Moving quickly to identify and preserve key evidence is essential to properly prosecuting a trucking case. I can assure you that no matter how quickly you start the process of preserving and collecting evidence after a commercial vehicle collision, the potential defendants have a huge head start.
Most commercial vehicle operators have crisis teams who are on call, nationwide, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – 366 in the leap year. The instant their driver is involved in a crash, the crisis team is scrambled to the scene and investigators, engineers, and accident reconstructionist descend to look after the driver and company's interests.
While they have head start, we can level the playing field by acting deliberately and quickly on behalf of our clients, and here are three immediate steps that must be taken:
- Preservation Letters – These should go out immediately and be sent to every potential defendant and/or nonparty that might have important evidence in their possession. Federal regulations require that some evidence be kept for six months, but much of what is needed falls outside of these regulations and may not be kept that long. A properly worded preservation letter puts the recipient on notice of their legal duty to safeguard and keep evidence. It also advises them of their potential legal exposure if they fail to take appropriate steps.
- Find the Commercial Vehicle – You can be sure that the defendant's experts have already inspected the truck. So, you need to act fast to have your investigators out to look at the commercial vehicle. Speedy inspection will allow you to capture fleeting evidence, that might disappear with time, and it will allow you to identify other potential defendants – a products liability case or failure to properly maintain the vehicle claim for example. Additionally, you will want to interrogate the vehicle's black box, GPS recordings, and, if available, associated electronic logs. Often these are stored on-board the cab.
- Safeguard and Store the Plaintiff's Vehicle – Many passenger vehicles and light trucks on the road today have their own black box, electronic data recorder, that captures speed, breaking, seatbelt usage, and other pre-collision information. This is important data that will help tell the story of the collision. It can also knock out innuendo critical of the plaintiff – for not wearing a seatbelt or speeding, for example. Additionally, the physical evidence left on the vehicle including scratch marks, witness marks on seatbelts, exterior damage, and interior damage can help an accident reconstructionist and biomechanical engineer rewind time and tell the story of the crash.
Please follow this developing blog for more information on trucking collisions and how they require a different approach than more typical car crashes.