Few things are more dangerous than a truck accident. Crashes involving these huge, heavy vehicles often leave victims with severe, even life-changing injuries, extensive medical bills, and needing significant time off work.
If you were in a truck accident caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless behavior, you’re entitled to seek compensation. However, to successfully recover damages, you’ll need evidence proving who was liable, which involves conducting a truck accident investigation.
Why Truck Accident Investigations Are Needed
It only takes a second for a truck driver to take their eyes off the road or for cargo to come loose for a major accident to happen. The size and weight of semi-trucks often make an accident far more severe than any fender bender.
Because of this, truck drivers, companies, and manufacturers are held to a higher standard than other vehicles on the road.
Showing that the person or party responsible for your accident has breached trucking regulations gives you a much better chance of securing the compensation you deserve.
Country-wide regulations are set out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and include regular drug and alcohol testing and ensuring drivers are appropriately qualified.
However, additional laws are often implemented at a state level. For example, the Texas Transportation Code governs extended loads and the maximum weight of commercial vehicles in the Lone Star State.
Unfortunately, many drivers and companies attempt to get around these regulations:
- An unqualified trucker may slip through the rigorous testing and qualification process.
- A qualified driver might hide their bad habits, such as speeding or checking social media while driving 65 miles per hour.
- A driver may take stimulants to stay awake on a long shift.
- A trucking company may encourage its employees to work well over the allowed limits to meet a deadline or get ahead.
- A trucking company might not check its fleet as often as it should or push trucks to their limits to avoid costly repairs and maintenance.
It’s not difficult to imagine the fallout of breaching regulations. If a truck company fails to check a truck’s tire pressures before sending a driver out on a delivery, the tire could blow, leaving the truck coasting along the highway — right into a family car. If a driver speeds to hit a deadline, they might not be able to stop in time to avoid hitting a car coming out at an intersection.
The complexity of trucking law makes it crucial to seek advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer. An attorney understands the regulations drivers and companies must adhere to and can conduct a truck accident investigation to identify if they’ve violated them.
Altered or Destroyed Evidence
One of the key reasons a truck accident investigation is so vital is to recover evidence before it is altered or destroyed.
Specific evidence, such as driver records and GPS or black box data, can be damning to a truck driver or company and show that a driver was speeding or working for longer than permitted.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for such evidence to disappear or be altered before a truck accident investigation is conducted.
Accident investigators working for the truck company responsible might move a stick shift to indicate the truck was in neutral. In some cases, truck records may be doctored after the fact, so unless you act fast and recover evidence or retrieve police photos taken at the scene before it was compromised, it may be lost for good.
Such behavior isn’t necessarily illegal, either. The FMCSA mandates that motor carriers retain electronic logging device (ELD) data for just six months. After that, it can be safely destroyed. With the statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Texas being two years — along with these claims potentially taking a long time to investigate — crucial evidence could go missing long before you even bring a claim.
What Does a Truck Accident Investigation Involve?
Establishing the cause of a truck accident is vital for proving who is responsible.
A truck accident can be caused by design or manufacturing flaws or defects to poor maintenance, errors in hiring or supervising drivers, and ignoring service restrictions.
A thorough truck accident investigation is crucial for identifying what factors led to the accident.
A truck accident claim is far from simple, so a truck accident investigation can be equally complex. During this process, your lawyer will collect evidence — filing subpoenas if needed — work with experts to reconstruct the events leading up to the crash, and interview witnesses to the accident.
Some of the key pieces of evidence they will collect are:
Videos and Photographs
Videos and photographs of the crash site, including damage to vehicles, debris, and the injuries sustained, are crucial for a successful claim. Since damaged vehicles are quickly moved and the scene cleared after an accident, photographic evidence preserves the scene while the truck accident investigation is underway.
Truck Driver Records
Truck driver records highlight a truck driver’s history and qualifications, while receipts and pre-trip inspections can indicate how long a driver has been working or how long it’s been since they’ve had a break.
One of the most critical records a lawyer will refer to in a truck accident investigation is the driver qualification file (DFQ). FMCSA regulations require trucking companies to maintain a DFQ for every driver they employ or contract.
Included in a DFQ are:
- Employment history
- Accident history
- Drug and alcohol test results
- Service hours
- Licenses (certain types of trucks require specific licenses, so a driver may not be qualified to drive all trucks)
- Vehicle maintenance records
- Medical history.
Black Box Data
Black box data, also known as event data, can show when a driver braked their vehicle and the speed they were traveling at, and what gear a driver was in before and during the impact. This is incredibly valuable evidence for a truck compensation claim, which is why truck companies are keen to get rid of it if there’s a chance they could be found liable.
GPS data, like black box data, can show if a driver has violated truck regulations. It can reveal a truck’s location, speed, and length of time on the road. If GPS data shows a driver hasn’t rested in hours, or if they’re reaching their destinations faster than possible at the legal speed limit, it could prove them liable for the accident.
During a truck accident investigation, your lawyer will consult several experts to strengthen your case, such as reconstruction experts to identify the factors that led to the crash and indicate liability, healthcare providers, and forensic toxicologists. They’ll also speak to witnesses to the accident, including bystanders, first responders, and other drivers involved.
Long before a truck accident investigation begins, the police will arrive at the scene shortly after the accident and conduct their own investigation. They will create a crash report during this, which provides an overview of the accident, who was involved, the damage caused, any citations issued, and potential contributing factors, such as speeding, cell phone use, intoxication, auto defects, and more.
While this is a helpful document for establishing liability, it should not be relied upon alone to establish how the accident occurred.
Why You Should Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer
Truck companies often go to great lengths to protect themselves and their drivers from liability after a crash. They’ll often refute claims that they’re responsible for your injuries and engage in aggressive tactics to pay out as little as possible — including removing vital evidence.
To make sure you get the compensation you deserve, it’s crucial to seek advice from a truck accident attorney as early as possible.
Our truck accident lawyers in Texas have experience winning these types of cases. We’re well-versed in complex trucking law, negotiating with stubborn insurance companies, and working with experts to ensure a truck accident investigation uncovers evidence that strengthens your case.
You could be entitled to significant compensation for your injuries. To find out how much you might be able to claim, contact our dedicated truck accident lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio and receive a free, no-obligation case review.