How To Prove A Semi Truck Fault in Accident

Determining that the semi-truck is at fault after a truck accident is essential to your lawsuit. To show fault, it will be necessary to prove that a trucking company or truck driver caused the accident.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Family-owned businesses are fortunate enough to have competent insurers and lawyers within the trucking industry. These experts help protect key evidence until the law forces them to disclose it. In cases involving the trucking industry, there are targets that plaintiffs’ attorneys need to align with the defendants in the trucking industry. Here, we will look at this critical evidence and outline some of the most efficient ways to access that evidence when a case arises.

A Wide Range of Electronic Information

Many believe that the trucking profession is unsophisticated, but that idea is antiquated. Today’s trucking fleets zip back and forth across the country using high-tech devices and data backed by high-level companies that organize and store electronic data and information. Even the smaller trucking companies now utilize high-profile electronic and web-based technological systems. The good news is that attorneys can store and access this information as they build their cases. While trucking companies vary in their use of specific web-based data, San Diego truck accident lawyer will look to the following systems to track a truck driver’s activities:

1) EDRs, or Event Data Recorders (also known as black boxes)

EDRs are usually a valuable component of Electronic Control Modules, which we will cover next. Experts can find the relevant date when an event occurs by using:

  • Data from airbag activation
  • Seat belt use
  • Braking and steering
  • Speed of the occupant
  • Position of the occupant
  • Percentage of throttle used
  • Application of braking components
  • Activation of ABS
  • Cruise control usage
  • Percentage of tire pressure
  • Changes in velocity
  • Pulse of crash
  • Data regarding airbag activation

2) Electronic Control Modules (otherwise known as ECMs)

ECMs are small-sized computers that integrate into the truck’s components. They can record pertinent information such as speed, braking, and more. This recorded information can also be handy for attorneys as they gather data and evidence to pursue their claim and the plaintiff’s claim.

3) Video footage recorded and supplied by DriveCam, DashCam, and Smart Drive

These companies specialize in vehicle safety and record videos of the driving process. Other companies do this as well, but these are the main three used today.

4) Satellite Systems

Positioning systems that utilize satellites help map out long drives. These systems have grown more sophisticated. They include GPS capabilities and can record crash reports, send emails, detect accidents up ahead, and even detect law enforcement officials in the area. These satellite positioning networks can also include Qualcomm communication networks and provide fuel receipts, driver logs, cell phone records, and radio / CB use forms.

These four categories of evidence are crucial tools for attorneys to access. Information such as this is vital to prove a client’s case. Therefore, requesting the information provided through these channels as early as possible is essential. This request ensures that these electronic records are not misplaced or eradicated. Some defendants will falsely claim that they do not have access to this information. Therefore, attorneys must be persistent in finding and requesting the data early in the legal process.

Cameras, GPS Systems, and Audio Files

The majority of major commercial trucking outfits utilize dashboard-mounted cameras. These devices film and record the driver and the traffic patterns in front of the vehicle.

While different trucking businesses use contrasting services, the videos from the dashboard are uploaded to a cloud-based server. The DriveCam company maintains this server and keeps the records. There are specific situations when these recorded videos can be readily available. Usually, a third-party subpoena is used when the trucking company denies any footage exists. For example, in Los Angeles, the new buses use camera systems operated by the Smart Drive company. Experts find the date by contacting Smart Drive directly.

Additionally, many of these video systems also record separate audio files, and trucking companies are also able to hide these or deny they exist. However, these audio files can be just as helpful as video files in producing proper evidence. Recently, a truck driver shouted “Oh my God!” as a precursor to an accident, and this relevant audio file helped achieve a settlement by the plaintiff’s lawyers.

In terms of specific systems of navigation, truckers across the country use various GPS systems, and these quickly store essential data regarding the vehicle’s route and position. When legal cases arise, this data can also help figure out areas of impact, trip information, and the positioning of the vehicle overall.

When a lawyer or legal team uses a navigation system, they should contact an engineer to help download the data, ensuring they do not miss any in the process. Discussing this with the defendant or defendants is also helpful, as is reviewing the rules surrounding downloading this information. Evidence found by the client’s ECM in the passenger vehicle is used to deduce speed levels, braking levels, and more.

Early Effort is Important in Trucking Negligence Cases

When gathering evidence, the first action is to send a preservation letter. Make sure that it is detailed and includes all essential items, for example, the video and audio records from the various control systems and data recorders. When sent early, a preservation letter makes the defendants in the case aware that the lawyer is seeking pertinent information. This action also sets things in motion and will become an advantage if there is, for example, an issue that arises. For instance, if the defendant refuses to supply the evidence or communicates that the evidence and recordings have been “lost,” then attorneys must take legal action to recover the evidence.

Regardless of how persistently and carefully you pursue the gathering of evidence, the defendant starts already ahead. Usually, commercial carrier companies get notice of an accident immediately through their insurance company. They then waste no time investigating the issue at hand. Likewise, many trucking companies employ a risk management company or team which travels to the accident scene and documents the evidence. They also usually interview witnesses.

While this sounds favorable, the defendants do not always have your—or the plaintiff’s—best interests at heart. They might engage in negligent acts, such as hiding, tampering with, or destroying evidence, and they may do this before you arrive at the scene. Therefore, attorneys must maintain the correct belief that the evidence in the case is not only necessary for them to obtain but legal for them to view. Legal precedent backs this up, but obtaining proof and dealing with negligent companies, can be a complex issue. Preservation letters are vital.

Another critical idea is that of a discovery plan. Skilled legal teams usually have a plan for discovering and recording evidence. A good discovery plan is well-thought-out and features a request for the necessary documents and evidence early in the process. Then, the legal team will view the critical evidence at the correct time.

Make sure that these requests focus on all the different data types we have discussed here and the relevant documentation from the initial investigation. These documents and recordings might include photographs, videos, reports, statements from witnesses, and more. The photos should ideally have the scene of the accident and the vehicles that were involved. In addition, there should be concise and detailed information from the insurance company, including repairs needed to the cars. Finally, make sure to get copies of all of this so that you can reconstruct the events of the accident.

The law dictates that attorneys and their clients have the legal right to all this evidence, from electronic data via the GPS to sworn witness testimonies. Sometimes, lawyers and plaintiffs will find that they need to fight for the right to access these materials, but that is a necessary conflict that will benefit their case.

We hope you feel more informed regarding proving negligence in a trucking company case. For more questions about these critical legal issues, don’t hesitate to contact the skilled lawyers at Nakase Wade.

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