If you or a loved one sustained an injury in a truck accident, the strength of the evidence that you present either to the insurance company or at trial would decide if you can receive compensation and how much you get. It follows that you need to have evidence when you submit your claim, or else you may risk losing out on the money to which you legally should receive.
However, given the serious injuries that you may have suffered at the scene, preserving evidence of the crash and your injuries may be difficult. Here are some tips for how to preserve evidence in a truck accident case.
To understand how to preserve evidence, you need to be familiar with the legal standard in a truck accident case. Proving that the other party was negligent is a requirement for receiving compensation in your case. The legal burden of proof in a civil case is that you must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the other party was responsible, meaning that it is more likely than not that your legal claims are true.
Why You Need Evidence in Your Truck Accident Claim
Proving negligence on the part of the truck driver requires meeting certain factual burdens.
Courts use a four-part test to determine a party’s liability for injuries:
- Duty of care – Truck drivers usually owe a duty of care to other drivers on the road and their passengers.
- Breach of the duty of care – You would need to show that the truck driver did something unreasonable in comparison to how a normal truck driver would have acted under the same circumstances.
- Injury – Plaintiffs always need to prove that they suffered damages.
- Causation – You would not have suffered an injury had it not been for the actions of the truck driver.
In your case, the evidence of what happened at the scene of the accident would be necessary to prove the second element of your claim. As the plaintiff in your case, the burden of proof is on you since you are the one who is seeking money. If you fail to prove any one of these above four elements, you will not receive financial compensation. Such stakes are why it is crucial to present evidence of the events that led up to the accident. Otherwise, it may be your word against the truck driver’s, giving the insurance company an opening to try to deny your claim.
Rules of Evidence Will Apply if Your Case Goes to Court
If your case goes to court, rules of evidence will apply to what you are using to prove your case, so you need to properly preserve any evidence. The defendant could challenge the admissibility of evidence on many different grounds. Consequently, a judge may rule to keep crucial evidence out of your case.
Another hurdle that you would need to cross is that truck accident trials occur years after the accident. Recollections may fade, and physical evidence may deteriorate over time. Your case might need to involve a reconstruction of the accident scene, but that gets harder to do over time. The better job that you do of preserving the evidence shortly after the accident, the easier it is to use it at a trial years into the future.
One of the major challenges that accident victims face is the scene of the accident is cleared very shortly after the crash. Traffic needs to get moving again, and clean-up crews often clear the debris within an hour. Otherwise, the roads would never free up for cars. This poses a serious problem for injured victims who do not have the opportunity to gather sufficient evidence.
Preserve What You Can at the Scene
As an injured driver, there are things you can do to preserve the evidence, though they might be limited. Many pieces of advice will tell you to take pictures of the scene of an accident to document your claim. However, that might not always be possible. If you are injured enough that you are filing a claim, the chances are that you cannot walk around the scene of an accident snapping pictures on your phone. Similarly, injuries might prevent you from speaking with potential witnesses to ask them what they saw. Instead, you might need to be tended to by medical personnel as they prepare to take you to a hospital.
Your immediate need for medical attention means that authorities might clear the accident scene before you can get full pictures of the scene. However, you should not think that this would prevent you from receiving compensation for your injuries. There are ways to preserve evidence that could still place you in a strong legal position to recover from your accident financially.
Call a Truck Accident Attorney Right Away if You Can
Of course, the ideal thing would be to call an attorney from the scene of an accident. If this is ever possible, the attorney could guide you through steps that you can take to start preserving evidence if you can. The attorney could begin to advise you on the spot of what you need to do to receive compensation in the future. The attorney may even send a representative to the scene of the accident to photograph debris and skid marks before clean-up crews clear them away.
Remember that the trucking company has representatives ready to report to accident scenes in many cases. These individuals gather evidence in defense of the truck driver and company, even well before you ever file a claim. You can even the playing field against the company with the right legal representation, which you should not wait too long to seek. By waiting, you risk that the trucking company might conceal or destroy evidence, or you might lose access to witnesses or video footage.
Some Helpful Evidence for Your Truck Accident Lawsuit
Other pieces of evidence that could help your case may need preservation quickly. Since you are injured and possibly even hospitalized, it would be impossible for you to take the necessary action. Securing a truck accident lawyer immediately after your accident is a way to start doing what you have to do to preserve evidence.
First, your attorney could survey the scene of the accident (even after a clear-up crew clears it away) to look for skid marks that could tell what happened. Even after tow trucks have cleared the vehicles, you may learn clues depending on these marks and where some debris landed. Further, you should not get your car repaired in a hurry. The damage to the car itself may also be proof of how the crash occurred, depending on how the collision happened.
Federal trucking regulations may make many other pieces of evidence may be relevant.
For example, some issues in your truck accident case could include:
- The maintenance records for the truck
- Any inspection records
- The length of the driver’s shift before the accident and the truck’s electronic driving log
- The operator’s driving history
- Any sobriety and drug test results for the truck driver after the accident.
The operation logs are very important. Federal regulations require that drivers limit their shifts to certain times and take rests at certain intervals. Their rests must also meet time requirements to keep them alert and focused behind the wheel. Many accidents occur because the driver has broken these rules to meet a delivery deadline and was drowsy behind the wheel. If the operations logs establish that the driver was breaking the rules, it will go a long way towards proving negligence.
Act Quickly to Obtain the Truck’s “Black Box”
The truck’s electronic data storage system will preserve many of these electronic records. If your case seems like it might need litigation, your attorney should send a letter to the defendant directing them to preserve this material. If the defendant tampered with or destroyed this evidence after you made the request, they could face serious legal consequences in your case. However, beginning this process quickly is a must to ensure that no evidence conveniently disappears. Courts do not like it when defendants tamper with and destroy data.
The electronic black box could even log the speed that the truck driver was traveling at when the accident occurred. It could tell whether the trucker tried to brake and avoid the accident. It should tell you much of what you need to know to prove liability. In this regard, you are generally better off in a truck accident case than a car accident because a car does not have any of these systems that you can use.
Trucking Companies Do Not Always Preserve the Black Box
However, this information eventually could get recorded over when a certain amount of time passes. Federal regulations only require that a trucking company keep this information for 60 days before they can record over it. Without an attorney working for you, this information that could prove the trucker’s liability could be gone forever.
Some trucking companies, knowing that they have something to hide, could somehow find a way to “lose” this data before the 60-day period is over if you do not act quickly. While you would think that trucking companies would back up this data, you might feel surprised at what does not exist, especially with liability on the line. Once you act, they must preserve it so long as there is a possibility of legal action. Without either black box data or witness statements, it could be your word against the trucker.
Move Quickly for the Operator’s Driving and Employment Records
When it comes to driving and employment records, the trucking company would need to preserve these as well. Your attorney would also move quickly to communicate to the defendant to keep these records. Trucking companies, in general, must keep and preserve these records according to federal law. However, they do not need to keep all of these records indefinitely, making it further clear why you should hire an attorney quickly. Without an attorney, you may not know that you need to send this letter to the defendant, let alone what to include in it.
Another key source of information is the driver’s cell phone records. They could have used their device to send a text or search the internet in the moments before the crash, causing them to lose focus. When you obtain cell phone data, you can see if the driver texted or called right before the crash. You can also tell if they were using the device when they should have been resting during their federally mandated break.
Gather Witness Contact Information and Speak to Them as Soon as Possible
In some cases, the success of your claim may also depend on witness statements from those who saw your crash. The standard legal advice is to collect them at the scene of the accident. Again, the severity of your injuries may keep you from interviewing people at the scene. You hope that you can somehow get the contact information from people who may have left it for you after the accident.
It is important to speak with those people (either at the scene or right after the accident) as soon as possible to make sure that you get their recollection of what they saw. Again, hiring an attorney quickly is important because they can contact the witnesses and know the right questions to ask.
Document Your Injuries as Soon as Possible
Finally, another piece of evidence in need of documentation is that of your medical condition. You need to visit a doctor right after the crash to begin to document your medical history. Contemporaneous medical records are what the insurance company needs to establish the extent of your injuries. You do now want to wait long to have your injuries diagnosed because more time gives the insurance company reason to challenge your claim.
The sooner you hire a truck accident lawyer, the better your chances of overcoming these challenges and recovering the compensation you need.