Understanding Trucking Accidents

Imagine that you have been injured in an accident caused by a tractor-trailer. The truck driver is denying it is his fault, the truck owners are calling you, the motor carrier is sending you confusing legal forms, the insurance people and police are all swarming the scene, and it seems like everyone is talking at once. You know it wasn’t your fault, but that’s about all you do know. Soon an adjuster for the trucking company shows up at your house and wants to take your statement. What do you do? Do you call that attorney who handled your friend’s car accident that time? The short answer: no. It’s true that you’re in an urgent situation, but do take a few moments to find a reputable trucking attorney. Attorneys who are experienced in trucking cases, specifically, are equipped to navigate the complexities of a trucking accident lawsuit, which can be very different from those of a regular auto accident. It is very important that you move quickly to find quality representation, because some issues have to be handled as soon as possible in order to secure a successful verdict or settlement for you.

One reason you need to have an experienced trucking attorney working on your case, rather than one who is only proficient with ordinary auto accidents, is that different rules apply to trucks. They are regulated differently than cars, and even within trucking, the regulations governing them are different depending on route, capacity and many other factors. For instance, trucks which operate only within one state (intrastate) are treated differently under the law than trucks which travel across state lines (interstate). It is important to have an attorney who is familiar with the extremely complex regulations that are specific to the trucking industry, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules.

Another key factor is the ownership of the truck. You might be surprised to learn that the trucks you see every day do not always belong to the company you think. For instance, a FedEx or UPS truck does not necessarily (or even usually) belong to FedEx or UPS. Those motor carriers lease the tractors and/or trailers from smaller, mom-and-pop companies, who might drive their own trucks, or might hire drivers. Each company has its own policies and maintains its own equipment and staff to its own standards. It seems silly, but one of the first questions to ask is, “whose truck and whose trailer is it, really?” It can make a big difference to your case.

Liability can often be the most confusing matter to be settled. Even after you determine who owns the truck, that does not always tell you who is liable for it. Is it the driver who behaved negligently or falsified driving records such as log books? The company who maintained it poorly or didn’t train the driver properly? The motor carrier who failed to comply with federal regulations or check that its leased vehicles were up to standard, or who demanded that impossible routes be driven (which would require more driving hours than is legal)? Whose insurance will pay for the damages- one of those parties? All of them? You can be sure that the insurance companies will be on the scene immediately to prevent any liability to themselves if at all possible. A quality attorney is there to untangle the complex web of contracts and liability, and to make sure that the insurance companies are held accountable.

Many victims of trucking accidents assume that if the collision was not their fault, that’s all that’s needed to pursue a lawsuit. However, that is not the case. Maintaining the evidence in a trucking case is vitally important, but not something most people would consider immediately- and time is of the essence. “Spoliation,” or tampering with (or removing or destroying) evidence is all too common a practice, especially since it is very easy for trucking companies to claim they they are simply performing routine maintenance or come up with some other plausible excuse. Your attorney needs to immediately write a spoliation letter, putting the trucking company on notice that any tampering with the vehicle(s) in question will be noticed and have legal consequences. The scene of the wreck needs to be promptly investigated before evidence such as skid marks and gouge marks becomes stale or lost. Witnesses need to be interviewed.

The evidence is important for many reasons, but one of them is that the experts in your case will need to examine it closely. This is another situation in which an experienced trucking attorney is invaluable: the success of your case depends in large part on your experts, and a good trucking attorney will have spent quite a lot of time and effort over the years developing relationships with a wide range of extremely qualified experts, such as accident reconstruction experts and experts in trucking company safety notices and procedures. It is necessary to know that your experts are knowledgeable, honest and excel at what they do.

To use some examples from our own experience, a good expert can prove driver negligence by interpreting the data from the electronic control module (DDEC), or use driver log books to determine that the motor carrier was not operating according to federal regulations, or reconstruct the entire accident in order to shed light on arguable points. There are a sea of nuances in a trucking case that influence the verdict or settlement and determine who is at fault, and to what degree. A good attorney utilizes experts to ensure that each small bit of information helps build your case.

You may have realized that we’ve stressed the importance of each of the aspects of trucking cases that we’ve discussed. Each one is important, but what makes the difference between a winning case and a losing one is an attorney who knows how to put them all together. Marc Davis never forgets that he’s dealing with real people, and that their futures depend on a favorable verdict. Often our clients rely on the proceeds of the case to pay their medical bills, keep from losing their homes, and sadly, to pay funeral costs. Marc has decades of experience in winning cases, and his huge network of experts has helped him achieve multimillion-dollar settlements and verdicts for many clients. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a trucking case, please call us today.