How do attorneys investigate semi-truck accident cases?

semi truck and pickup truck

When we are hired to represent the victim of a semi-truck accident, there are several things that may be done to investigate the cause of the collision and to make sure that important evidence is collected and/or preserved.

It is extremely important for reasons that have already been stated in this book that the investigation of a serious truck accident occur immediately or as soon as possible.  The investigation must also be thorough.  A timely and thorough investigation can substantially increase the odds of a successful outcome.  It can also result in a much more valuable claim, literally increasing the value of a claim by tens of thousands of dollars, or in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There is no “standard” investigation because every case will be unique. However, we will investigate several areas connected with the claim that could prove impactful.  These areas and specific tasks are detailed as follows:

  1. Visit or Analyze the Collision Scene.  It’s important to collect or preserve any evidence at the collision scene. Sometimes it may be prudent to visit the scene. Sometimes not.  But here are certain things we may want to obtain, record, or preserve at the scene of a collision.
     
    • Physical debris left at scene.
    • Photograph and/or videotape scene.
    • Skid or gouge marks on the roadway.
    • Lighting or visibility issues.
    • Traffic patterns.
    • Traffic control used at the scene.

 

  1. Contact Witnesses.  People who may have seen what happened are always important.  Sometimes it may be necessary to visit nearby businesses or homes to see if there were any people that may have seen something, but whose identity may not be known to police. We usually perform one or more of these tasks.
     
    • Contact known witnesses.
    • Obtain recorded audio or video statements.
    • Contact nearby businesses or homes for unknown witnesses.
    • Obtain statements from the truck driver involved.
    • Obtain statements from other motorists at the scene.

 

  1. Request Law Enforcement Records.  Almost always we will contact the various law enforcement agencies that were responsible for responding to the collision and performing investigation at the scene.  We will usually will want to obtain one or more of the following:
     
    • Probable causes statement from investigating officer or detective.
    • Complete investigative report.
    • Accident reconstruction analysis.
    • Scene photographs.
    • Computer Assisted Diagrams (CAD drawings).
    • Witness statements.
    • 911 call recordings.
    • Traffic surveillance videos.
    • Motor carrier inspection reports.
    • Traffic citations.
    • Driver’s criminal history.
    • Driver’s accident history.
    • Drug and alcohol testing records.

 

  1. Send Out Preservation of Evidence Letters.  One of the first things we will do is contact the defendant driver and the trucking company involved, as well as their insurers, to make sure that they preserve any evidence that may be relevant.  The Department of Transportation mandates that certain evidence only be preserved for six months. So sending out notice that a longer preservation time is necessary can pay huge dividends in the case several months or even years later.  These “preservation letters” will usually ask that the responsible parties and/or their attorneys and insurers take reasonable steps to preserve certain types of evidence, including:
     
    • Driver logs.
    • Dispatch records and audio recordings.
    • Vehicle crash data.
    • On board computer data.
    • Cell or smart phone data.
    • Trucking company business records (e.g., inspection reports, bills of lading, etc.).
  2. Investigate the Trucking Company and its Driver.  We will also perform as much investigation as possible into the trucking company and the driver involved in the collision.  Some of the information can be obtained pre-suit, but others usually must come after a lawsuit is filed because of the subpoena power that litigation provides. This information will include:
     
    • DOT safety history.
    • Annual inspection reports.
    • Prior claims history.
    • Prior accident history.
    • Media reports.
    • Criminal history.
    • Prior lawsuit or litigation history.
    • State business records (annual reports, licensing, etc.).
    • Safety policies.
    • Drug and alcohol testing policies.
    • Driver training and other employee records.

 

  1. Retain Experts.  When we investigate trucking accidents, it is often critical that we contact and retain appropriate experts to help us with the case.  Often times there will be few qualified experts in a particular field so it will be important to contact or hire the expert first before the trucking company and its lawyers do.  Having the best expert in a critical field that is relevant to the case can also substantially increase the chances of a much more favorable outcome in the case.  Here are some of the types of experts that we may want to retain in a serious truck accident:
     
    • Accident Reconstruction Expert.
    • Major Accident Reconstruction Expert.
    • Truck Driver Standard of Care.
    • Commercial Driver Standard of Care.
    • Commercial Vehicle or Truck Mechanic.
    • Transportation Investigator or Safety Expert.
    • Drug and Alcohol Recognition Expert.
    • Trucking Company Standard of Care (hiring, training, and supervising).
    • Metallurgist.
    • Engineer (traffic engineer, mechanical engineer, etc.).
    • Roadway Design Expert.
    • Pathologist.
    • Physician (surgeon, neurologist, orthopedist, physiatrist, etc.).
    • Psychologist/Neuropsychologist.
    • Vocational Rehabilitation Expert.
    • Economist.

As you can see, there is a lot to do when it comes to the investigation of a serious trucking accident.  Usually, time is of the essence in these types of accidents because you are likely to encounter a very quick, responsive and aggressive investigation from the trucking company and its experts and lawyers.  Sometimes, the success of a case may depend on the timeliness of the investigation.  When months or years go by without the victim performing his or her own investigation, it can result in the loss or destruction of evidence and hence lower the chance of a positive outcome in the case. 

Whenever the claim involves serious or life-changing injuries or death, that means the trucking company and its insurance company face the increased chance of having to pay out a much larger settlement or jury verdict. This means that when there is a potentially large damage claim at stake, the company and its insurer will usually mount a much more aggressive investigation to mitigate or lower its potential exposure of having to pay out a large sum of money to the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.  In these types of cases, it is then even more important that the victim or surviving family members retain experienced counsel as soon as possible.