Don’t Act too Fast without Hiring an Attorney
In a catastrophic truck wreck case, someone must act quickly on behalf of the victim to get an experienced trucking lawyer on the case. This is due to the speed with which trucking companies and their insurers spring into action after a catastrophic truck wreck. Typically, a trucking company or its insurer sends a "rapid response team" to an accident scene as soon as it learns of the wreck. Within an hour after a crash occurs, the company has a claims investigator at the scene seeking evidence favorable to the defense. Too often, evidence "disappears." The next step is to begin trying to lull the victim and her family into inaction by promising to "do the right thing," and perhaps making an offer of settlement that may tempt an unsophisticated victim who is still in shock, but at a bargain price in light of what the company knows. The objective is to deal directly with the victim, telling her that she doesn't need an attorney.
Trucking Companies Already Have a Defense Team to Work Against You
Remember that the trucking company and insurance company at that point have a defense lawyer and several claims professionals working on their side, seeking to isolate the victim from professional assistance as long as possible. Meanwhile, there is a tremendous amount of evidence that may be lost forever if the victim doesn't have a knowledgeable, forceful attorney who can quickly act to preserve it. The larger trucking companies generally use on-board computers and satellite communication systems that generate an enormous amount of data that may be invaluable to the victim's case. The companies that provide those services to truck fleets have record retention policies providing that data on truck operations is transmitted to the trucking companies, then purged from the provider's computer system within 14 to 30 days. The data transmitted to the trucking companies is subject to "modification" and it is extraordinarily difficult and expensive to prove that data was altered. In addition, trucking companies typically have record retention policies to purge such records in no more than the six months that the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations require for preservation of driver logs, or other retention periods for other records.
The Black Box
There is also "black box" data generated by engine control modules (ECM's) on all late model road tractor engines. Such data is extremely important in proving the performance of the truck and its drive. It must be downloaded according to manufacturers' protocols, and if not promptly downloaded may be lost forever. Without immediately retaining a lawyer who is prepared to immediately demand that the companies preserve a long list of paper records and electronic data after a wreck, the company may well destroy that information according to internal records management policies that are permissible under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. If necessary, one may need to file suit just to require preservation of evidence prior to filing a personal injury or wrongful death case. Allowing yourself to be lulled into inaction by representatives of a company that is busy gathering evidence favorable to the defense and avoiding preservation of unfavorable evidence, is a tragic outcome for trusting injury victims.
Understanding the Industry and the Statistics
Trucking is vitally important for interstate commerce. We like to think that all drivers who pilot forty ton rockets down the Interstate are the "knights of the road." While all that is true for many, it is not true for all. And those who do negligently crash massive tractor- trailers are likely to cause serious damages. Every year thousands of trucking fatalities occur - people are killed and hundreds of thousands more are injured as the result of truck accidents.
One out of every nine traffic fatalities involves a trucking accident. In 2003, 457,000 large trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds were involved in traffic crashes in the United States.
That year, 4,669 trucks were involved in fatal traffic accidents resulting in 4,289 deaths.
That's the equivalent of ten Boeing 747 jumbo jets crashing each year, killing everyone aboard. Of the fatalities that resulted from truck accidents involving large trucks, 78 percent were occupants in another vehicle, 8 percent were non-occupants, and only 15 percent were occupants of a large truck.
Therefore, the majority who suffer as a result of fatal traffic accidents is innocent drivers and passengers just like you. However, truck driver fatalities are also a great concern. The costs for fatal traffic accidents exceed $20 billion, including $8.7 billion in productivity losses, $2.5 billion in resource costs, and quality of life losses valued at $13.1 billion.