After a fatal truck accident or serious injury commercial vehicle collision, an efficient and effective investigation can create advantages in the preservation of key evidence and information that can win a large verdict in a law suit or result in an early and large settlement of an insurance claim. For this reason, it is important to have professionals working for you that understand how to investigate a serious accident and preserve key evidence that can prove liability or damages.
Immediately after an accident, the trucking company and their insurance company are typically in route to the accident scene to collect evidence that will help them avoid paying or limit the amount that they pay for any deaths or injuries that were caused by the accident. These individuals will be taking photos and video of key evidence that will help absolve their client of liability as well as attempting to take recorded statements of key witnesses in an attempt to lock in crucial testimony from witnesses.
Even though law enforcement professionals also investigate serious wrecks, their primary purposes at the accident scene is to get people to safety, protect people from other traffic, and to clear the accident scene for traffic to resume to move and flow. Sometimes these law enforcement professionals do an excellent job of accident investigation and can easily determine the cause of the collision or accident. At other times, they do incomplete interviews; accept the story of one or more biased witnesses; are influenced by the trucking company or insurance company's representatives; or are too busy getting the survivors of the collision to safety, clearing the debris and vehicles, dealing with tow truck drivers, and directing traffic to properly investigate the scene of an accident.
If possible, it is typically useful to have your own experienced accident investigator at the scene of the accident to observe the accident scene; take photographs and video of the debris, vehicles, skid marks; and make a list of all potential witnesses with contact information. Whether this person is a family member, friend, truck accident lawyer, off duty police officer, or other competent person that you can trust, it is often important to have someone that can properly investigate the accident scene as close to the time of the accident as possible. For the experienced accident investigator, it is useful to have working cameras, measuring tape, a reflective vest, business cards, tape recorder, and a note book or device to take names, addresses and other information.
The experienced accident investigator will carefully search for not only obvious skid marks, drop offs, crush damage, and contact points, but also for inconspicuous clues such as damage to all vehicles, damage to guard rails, scuffs, scratches, and dried liquids. Carefully documenting and measuring this crucial evidence can be extremely important in proving liability in a fatal collision or catastrophic injury accident case.
The trucking companies and truck drivers often try to get their vehicle away from the accident scene as soon as possible and try to repair any damage to the vehicle before a proper investigation can take place. This is because they can often hide evidence of maintenance problems, vehicle defects, and driver error by working on the vehicle after a fatal collision or catastrophic injury accident.
It is also important to be able to examine the passenger vehicle wreckage and all other vehicles that were involved in the accident. Each vehicle can contain key evidence in determining how a fatal wreck or catastrophic injury collision occurred.
The electronic "black box" data recorder is typically a crucial piece of evidence in any commercial vehicle accident. This is because most modern commercial vehicles with a heavy-duty diesel engine are equipped with an Electronic Control Module (ECM)/Engine Control Unit (ECU) that controls and monitors most of an engine's operations. This "diesel engine electronic brain" may contain important accident information such as engine RPMs just prior to the accident, vehicle speed at the time of and just prior to the collision, brake application prior to impact, throttle position, and clutch application. This information can be crucial in determining how the accident occurred and if driver error or maintenance problems were a proximate cause of the collision.
These recorders are not always turned on by trucking companies and truck drivers as many do not want evidence of their driving habits or safety violations prior to a potential accident. The data recorders also can be easily overwritten and crucial information can be lost. It is usually best to obtain the electronic "black box" recorder at the scene of the accident because the mere act of driving the truck to another location can erase the information stored in the recorder. Though it is not always possible to obtain the data recorder at the scene of the accident, it is important to request it and have a record of the request as soon as possible after the accident.
In addition to the black box information in large commercial trucks, most passenger vehicles have a black box data recorder that is typically referred to as the electronic data recorder (EDR). By the year 2012, all vehicles will be required to have an electronic data recorder.
In passenger vehicles the electronic data recorder is typically the airbag control module that is designed to analyze the collision, determine if airbag deployment is needed, and then to deploy the airbags. If the electronic data recorder has additional energy it will record additional information regarding the collision. To retrieve information stored in an electronic data recorder, accident reconstructionists use Crash Data Retrieval (CDR).
Like preserving wreckage and data recorders, it is important to make sure that crucial documents are preserved and obtained from all vehicle owners and drivers involved in the collision. Documents including key maintenance records, driver logs, communications with drivers, delivery schedules, driving records, police reports, witness statements, photographs, driver safety training materials, truck owner's and operator's manual, accident investigations, and medical records can all provide crucial information regarding the cause of a truck collision.
Therefore, after a fatal accident or catastrophic injury accident, a preservation letter is often needed to preserve crucial documents that can prove fault in a truck accident or commercial vehicle collision. A letter/notice should have language regarding spoliation of evidence and instruct the potentially at fault parties to preserve all relevant documents and information concerning the accident.
If you have suffered catastrophic injuries or have had a loved one killed in a truck wreck or other commercial vehicle accident, it is important to make sure that a thorough investigation of the fatal truck accident or catastrophic injury collision is done. It is also typically a good idea to obtain excellent legal representation from an experienced truck accident investigation lawyer to protect you or your loved one's rights and to make sure that an investigation as to the cause of the collision is done correctly.