Truck accidents are devastating, and those who are fortunate to survive are left nursing severe injuries like traumatic brain injuries and bone fractures. It’s essential to protect your interests after being involved in a truck crash once you receive medical attention. Remember, California is an at-fault state, meaning that to recover damages, you must prove that the other driver(s) was at fault. Evidence gathering, therefore, is a necessary step towards recovering damages. The trucking industry has multiple compliance standards and safety rules, which make it difficult to gather evidence.
At The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we understand that you need legal guidance to obtain evidence after a truck accident. To shed light on the type of evidence needed in these crashes, we will discuss the three categories of proof required to prove liability or to receive compensation after a truck accident.
Driver’s History and Record Needed in a Truck Accident
After a crash, the driver’s information is required as evidence to show what caused the accident. Some of the driver information needed includes:
- Driver Qualification (DQ) File
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association Regulations (FMCSAR) require a motor carrier to keep a file containing all the qualifications of a driver they have employed. The specific information that must be provided in this file includes:
- Driver-individual application for the job
- Any background checks made to the former employers of the driver for thirty-six months before the application for the job. The safety performance history form of the driver for three years before job application should also be obtained from former employers.
- Medical certificate showing the report for a recent medical examination
- Yearly evaluation of the driving record
- Annual MVR (Motor Vehicle Record)
- The annual list of violations by the driver
- Road test certification. It should entail a road test form and accreditation by the driver’s motor carrier, a road test certificate conducted by a previous employer within the last thirty-six months, or a copy of the California driver’s license instead of a road test.
- Entry-level driver training certificate and
- A driver training certificate for long combination vehicle
The data listed above must be maintained in the DQ during the employment period and three years after leaving the job.
- Driver Training File
This file is not different from the DQ file, only that it has additional documents about specialized achievements by the driver.
- The Driver’s Log or Hours of Service Documentation
Drivers in the trucking industry are not permitted by the FMCSA to drive for over sixteen hours after a consecutive ten hours off duty. Doing so ensures that they drive safely. A driver is therefore required to keep a record of hours of service and documents that prove they comply with this safety regulation on service hours. A record like this can help a lot when claiming compensation. The period this data is kept depends on many things like:
- Alcohol and drug testing information — The form of evidence is essential in proving negligence. You are expected to keep a record of tests that you have undertaken in the past five years or more including BAC test results that read above .02%, chemical test results testing positive for controlled substances or narcotics, refusal to take a chemical test, and drug or alcohol addiction assessment reports. The information is instrumental in showing your driving record.
- You, as a driver, must also keep a record of the chemical test results that have tested negative, canceled, or alcohol tests with a BAC level of no more than .02% for one year.
- An up to date driver’s log — Your log should be current in terms of time and date. It should contain information about the date, name of the carrier, the truck number, and the total distance covered within a day. The log should also entail the details of the trip, including when it started, the number and names of co-drivers, the cargo being hauled, off-duty hours, and when the driver or co-driver was behind the wheel.
- The Driver's Inspection Record
It is a formal record showing the driver has complied with the U.S. rules and regulations about commercial vehicle inspection. The file should indicate you have completed a review of:
- Windshield wipers
- Steering mechanism
- Emergency and safety tools
- Air and brake system
- Rearview mirrors
- Any trailer or power unit that is part of the truck
- Oil level
- Engine compartment belts
Having a record of inspections helps show the condition of the car and if it was well maintained or not. Information like that is pivotal in determining the at-fault party.
Truck Information Needed as Proof in Truck Accidents
After a truck crash, the information required as evidence from the vehicle include:
- A download of the overall control operation systems of the truck — including the engine control and the brake control module. If you are wondering how it is possible to download the operations system, then wonder no more. The recent advancements in technology have made it possible for inbuilt systems to record all the events that occurred before an accident including the direction the truck was ended, the location of the car and even data on how the driver applies the brakes if at all there is a suspicion that the accident was caused by braking system failure.
- A documented report of the truck’s maintenance history — Not every motor carrier adheres to regulations on semi-truck and big-rig truck maintenance. Some take shortcuts to cut on costs, and in the process, lead to a poorly maintained vehicle. If the documented report about the truck whose driver or company you are suing does show the car has not been adequately maintained, then it is substantial evidence to help in receiving compensation.
- A report of the truck inspection
The information above can be used to prove that you were not negligent or that the other party was negligent.
The Load Being Hauled Needed as Evidence for Truck Accident
During the investigation of an accident, the information about the cargo that was in transit is critical because it can be used as evidence. The evidence or proof required for the shipment or load being hauled include:
- The bill of lading
- Weight tickets issued at various weighing stations during transportation
- Trip envelopes. The envelope helps drivers to claim money for the expenses they have incurred while on the road. For clear documentation of the costs, they record everything that happens on the trip, even the type of truck they are using so that they get paid.
- Dispatch instructions
- Delivery documents
The FMCSA requires the three categories of evidence discussed above, i.e., the information on the driver, truck, and the load being transported be availed in a claim.
After a crash, the other driver might try to recover these pieces of evidence and conceal them hence the reason you should be very careful at the scene of a truck crash. Immediately contact a personal injury attorney so that none of this crucial evidence is stolen from the scene.
Importance of Evidence in a Truck Accident
As mentioned earlier, the trucking industry has strict regulations that every company must comply with to ensure safety. Collecting the evidence listed above enables you and the law enforcers to know what happened hours, days, or months before the accident. With such proof, it will be easy to identify the party that was at fault, and the specific reasons why the crash occurred. The driver of the truck might be at fault for maybe texting while driving; the trucking company might also be at fault for overloading trucks, or even the manufacturer of the truck parts for manufacturing, designing or selling defective or faulty parts.
Determining fault is what will help you receive compensation. You will need the driver information, commercial truck information, and data of the cargo being hauled.
Evidence is Critical in a Truck Accident
California is a pure comparative negligence state. It means the degree of fault is shared among those involved in a crash. If you are to blame for the accident to a certain percentage, then the amount of settlement you were to receive will be deducted. There are many incidences where both drivers are responsible for the accident. The person with stronger evidence to prove liability will have a solid case; thus, the reason there is always a need to gather adequate evidence at the scene of the crash. Some of the evidence you can use to strengthen your case include:
- Checking for any traffic cameras near the scene of the accident because it can help in showing how the whole evident unfolded, thus making it easy to identify the responsible driver.
- Witness statements. You can strengthen your evidence by speaking to people who saw the accident occur to get their side of the story. When recording these statements, ensure you jot down the name, current address, email address, and phone number of the witnesses in case they are required to testify in court.
- Expert witness reports. Experts on truck accidents can be used to demonstrate to the court by drawing diagrams or giving a pictorial representation of how the accident occurred using their knowledge. It helps the jury get a picture of what happened at the scene.
- Pictures of the scene. Immediately after the accident, you should capture images of everything at the scene, including eyewitnesses, skid marks on the road, weather conditions in the area, damage to the vehicles involved in the crash, and the road condition. Make sure these images are clear and precise, especially those capturing the damages on the car.
Remember that records in the trucking industry need to be kept for a duration of half a year after this, companies are free to dispose of the data. Ensure that the records on your accident are not eliminated by the company. Your attorney should write a letter of spoliation requesting the company to hold on or not to dispose of the report on the truck crash because you will need it when pursuing a claim.
Truck Accidents and Evidence Proving Negligence
California is both an at-fault and pure comparative state. At-fault means that you must show that one party involved in the crash acted with negligence, and that is what caused the accident. Truck accidents can be caused by:
- The Fault of the Driver
Several accidents occur due to drivers failing to exercise their duty of care or by negligence. Some of the pieces of evidence that can prove a truck driver was negligent are:
- Improper lane change
- Distracted driving
- Texting while driving
- Disregard of traffic laws
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
If a truck driver causes an accident while doing something that is prohibited or forbidden by the various Vehicle Codes, then it shows the driver was negligent, and he or she should be liable for the losses and injuries suffered by the plaintiff.
The FMCSA reports that 12% of truck accidents occur because of issues like drivers sleeping while behind the wheel. The reason some commercial vehicle drivers end up driving while fatigued is trying to beat deadlines, which in the end contributes to negligent driving. To prevent drivers from staying on the road for long hours in a day, California enacted VC 21702 that prohibits truck drivers from spending more than a certain number of hours on the road within a day. The limit for driving when transporting property is eleven hours after ten consecutive hours off duty. Violating VC 21702, therefore, puts other motorists at risk.
- Trucking Company Fault
The reason why trucking companies might violate FMCSA regulations is profit. When a company is looking to make supernormal profits, it might end up:
- Overloading trailers
- Allowing for overweight vehicles
- Failure to ensure proper inspection and maintenance of trucks
- Negligent hiring and training of employees
- Encouraging drivers to violate VC 21702
- Letting trucks take an unbalanced load
Semi-trucks operating in California have route designations, weight, and size limits. However, trucking companies might forge documents to supersede these limits. If you can prove that a trucking company is engaging in these reckless actions and the actions are the ones that caused an accident, then you can recover punitive damages in court. It is also possible for a plaintiff to have a claim against multiple defendants. It occurs where the accident was caused by truck defects, faulty truck parts, or poor highway conditions.
Pure comparative negligence means that you can recover damages as a plaintiff even if you share a certain percentage of blame for the accident. In proving negligence, your injury attorney must be willing to investigate everything about the accident to ensure you recover damages that you deserve. He or she must find out how the trucking company, its employees, manufacturer of the truck, or even the authorities in charge of roads are responsible for the accident.
It is challenging to identify the defendant if the driver who was behind the wheel at the time of the crash is an independent contractor. Your attorney must establish the level of control by the trucking company over the driver to decide who to hold liable for the collision.
Additional Evidence Needed in Truck Accidents
Aside from road hazards, trucking company fault, fatigue, and driver errors, other things can cause truck crashes. If, for instance, a Jackknifing accident occurs when a truck driver applies sudden brakes or tries to make a turn, evidence will be required to show why the jackknife happened in the first place. You can argue that the reason for jackknifing was a slippery road or you were avoiding to hit another car. By arguing that way, it shows the court that you were not acting recklessly or negligently.
If it is a turning accident, it is not always clear what caused the crash. Large commercial trucks find it challenging to turn, especially on one lane, which might force them to rely on two roads. The court might, however, hold that you were at fault because of driving a large truck on two lanes.
When proving liability, if the driver who was at fault is an employee of a trucking company, it means you will need an attorney who will go after the insurers of the company to recover compensation. In the event the truck was hauling a dangerous load, the damages and injuries that occur after a collision are severe. The attorney should, therefore, focus on recovering damages for loss of income, property damage, and medical expenses.
In the event of fatalities, he or she can file a claim to recover funeral and burial expenses, loss of consortium, loss of guardianship, and medical expenses. Some families might not be willing to file a wrongful death lawsuit because of grief, but it is always wise to retain the services of an attorney so that they can help you with the process. Those people eligible to file this claim include spouse, children, grandchildren, domestic partner, and any other person who might be entitled to the property of the decedent as per the intestate succession laws.
Recoverable Damages in Truck Accidents
You have up to two years after the time of the accident in California to file a lawsuit. However, if the claim is against a government agency, the limit for filing a lawsuit or claim is six months. After this period lapses, then you have lost your legal right to a claim against the negligent or at-fault party. Truck accidents are often devastating. The size of the vehicles and the weight of the cargo being hauled can cause severe damages or injuries. Besides, these accidents cause traffic snarls because it takes hours for investigators to collect evidence and tow the truck from the road. It will take even longer if many vehicles are involved in the crash and if the weather conditions are poor.
Contact an attorney immediately after an accident so that they can assist in the gathering of evidence, which is critical in recovering compensation. The damages to be awarded are categorized as economic and non-economic damages. In a trucking accident claim, economic damages are the financial costs you have incurred or will incur in the future, and they include:
- ER treatment
- Medical expenses
- Prescription drugs
- Vehicle repairs
- Medical supplies
- Loss of wages and future earning capacity
- Future medical treatment
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are those whose dollar value cannot be assessed. These damages include:
- Physical disability
- Emotional stress
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
In the event of the death of a loved one because of a truck accident, one can file a wrongful death claim.
Truck Accident Injuries
As per a report by the FMCSA, four thousand, three hundred buses and big-rig trucks were involved in fatal accidents in 2015. Another eighty-seven thousand large trucks were involved in crashes causing injuries.
When a vehicle collides with a truck, the driver and passengers in the car often suffer severe injuries than the passengers in the truck. The reason being trucks are heavier and higher off the ground than vehicles. The injuries sustained in a truck crash are dependent on many factors. Some of these factors include:
- The weight of the truck and trailer
- Safety features of the car
- Speed of the vehicles involved in the crash
- Are of the accident
When a vehicle crashes with a truck, due to the height difference of the two passengers in the car might end up being trapped inside. The presence by emergency crews is necessary at such a point because if just anyone removes the injured from the car wreckage, it might cause internal bleeding or organ damage. Also, if the rescue from the wreck takes long enough, those trapped inside the car might end up losing their lives or the injuries becoming more severe. The common injuries sustained in truck crashes are:
- Smoke inhalation
- Brain injury
- Neck and back injuries
- Head trauma
- Broken bones
Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
It is tough to cope with injuries and losses stemming from a truck accident. Although compensation might not take away the emotional and physical suffering, it will help you recover financial damages by filing a personal injury claim. At The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we are here to provide legal help to victims of truck accidents in California. Our team of professionals will help you in gathering the type of evidence needed in these claims to ensure you get compensated. Reach out to us at 619-625-8707 so that we can take care of your case as you concentrate on healing.