Why Trucking Companies Often Conduct Their Own Accident Investigations

Key Points:

  • Because truck accidents are more complicated and can be much more costly than car accidents, trucking company representatives begin an extensive investigation immediately.
  • Trucking company investigators will gather all available evidence at the scene and work as quickly as possible in the days afterward to collect and analyze other types of data, such as black box information, cell phone data, and information from other technological devices on the truck.
  • The trucking company’s investigation and control over the relevant evidence can give it advantages over the victim in an injury claim.
  • An experienced truck accident attorney can investigate and gain access to the company’s evidence through the discovery process and help build a strong compensation claim.

Compared to car accidents, commercial semi truck crashes often involve complicated factors and require extensive investigations to determine who or what was to blame. For the trucking company, when a large, expensive vehicle transporting goods worth thousands of dollars is potentially liable for severe damage to other cars and people, the stakes are high. Depending on the severity of the accident, the financial cost to the trucking company could be devastating.

When such an accident occurs, the trucking company goes to work immediately to investigate the cause. Often, the trucking company has substantial resources to devote to the investigation and has a lower volume of accidents to evaluate compared to an auto insurance company.

During investigations, trucking companies are looking to protect their own interests, which means determining whether the truck driver involved is safe and trustworthy. If the driver was acting negligently by speeding or using drugs, for example, the company would likely fire them to safeguard its vehicles and cargo as well as to prevent liability claims. The investigators also try to determine whether there was a problem with the truck that caused the accident because an unsafe truck can be costly for the same reasons.

The trucking company’s investigators collect a substantial amount of evidence from many sources to understand what happened, but an accident victim seeking compensation for injuries can find it challenging to gain access to that information. If you’ve been hurt in a truck accident, you should know how the investigation process works and how you can build a strong compensation claim.

Who Investigates Truck Accidents?

After a truck accident, the investigation begins at the scene of the crash and generally includes police officers as well as other parties. Typically, the truck driver will notify the company that owns the truck, and a team of investigators will soon arrive to analyze the scene and collect evidence.

The team that investigates may include insurance company representatives, lawyers, and trucking company employees, such as a safety director or even a CEO if it’s a small company. If the truck is owned by a large, sophisticated company and the accident is serious, the team is more likely to include lawyers, accident experts, and witness interviewers.

The police will help coordinate any immediate medical care required, interview parties and witnesses, gather evidence, and analyze the accident scene and conditions present. The police will also issue citations to any drivers who violated traffic laws and prepare an accident report that documents the information and officer’s findings.

When Do Truck Accident Investigations Take Place?

With most car accidents, only police officers are summoned to the scene to investigate in the immediate aftermath, and the drivers’ insurance companies begin investigating claims later. Because truck accidents are more complicated and can be much more costly, however, trucking company representatives begin investigating immediately.

The truck driver involved is required to notify the company as soon as the accident occurs, and the company and/or its insurance company representatives dispatch a team to arrive at the scene right away. The accident team will collect all available evidence at the scene and will work as quickly as possible in the days afterward to collect and analyze other types of data, such as black box information, cell phone data, and information from other technological devices on the truck.

Because certain types of evidence can be lost or diminish over time, it’s crucial to the investigation to collect and preserve all information related to the accident as soon as possible.

Questions That Arise in a Truck Accident Investigation

To understand how trucking companies investigate accidents, it’s helpful to know the purpose of the investigation. Ultimately, the trucking company’s goal is to protect itself financially, which means it will look for evidence to deny responsibility and/or reduce the amount of compensation owed. It also uses the investigation to identify unsafe drivers and problems in its trucks that can put the company at risk. Thus, the investigation is designed to answer the following key questions:

First, who or what caused the crash? In an accident, whichever driver was responsible for causing it can be held liable under the law, which means the at-fault driver’s insurance company must compensate the victim for costs. If the truck driver was at fault and the accident occurred while the driver was on the job and acting within the scope of their employment, the trucking company’s insurance carrier is responsible for paying compensation. The investigators will look closely at the evidence to determine whether the truck driver was to blame for the accident and whether any other drivers were at least partially at fault.

Second, what is the total cost of the accident? After determining liability, the trucking company investigators will try to understand the total cost of the crash, which includes all the damages the victim may recover. Accident victims may recover economic losses, such as medical treatment, vehicle damage, and lost wages, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and diminished quality of life. In certain situations (e.g., when the crash was caused by drunk driving), the victim may also seek punitive damages.

Third, was the trucking company negligent in any way? In addition to driver negligence, the company’s failure to adhere to driver safety rules, maintain the truck properly, adhere to loading guidelines, or hire qualified drivers can also constitute liability. In a truck accident case, you may have a liability claim against multiple parties—the driver, the trucking company, or anyone else who shares responsibility (e.g., truck manufacturer).

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Reports and Documents That Are Examined in a Truck Accident Investigation

Collecting and analyzing evidence is an essential part of any truck accident investigation. The trucking company investigation team will examine the following reports and documents to determine potential liability and damages:

  • Police accident reports
  • Statements by eyewitnesses, drivers, and passengers
  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation records (required for all commercial motor vehicles)
  • Truck mileage reports
  • Cargo records (information related to cargo contents and weight)
  • Truck driver qualification file (includes employment history, driving records, hours-of-service logs, training certificates, and drug test results)
  • Truck inspection/repair records
  • Photographs taken at the scene
  • 911 calls
  • Medical bills and records

Technology That Is Evaluated in a Truck Accident Investigation Modern commercial trucks are equipped with specialized technology that can record crucial information about the driver’s actions, condition of the truck, and the events leading up to the accident. Most people refer to this technology as a “black box,” but the term actually encompasses multiple devices of the truck’s computerized system located in the electronic control module.

Black box data varies depending on the type of truck, but it typically records detailed information such as vehicle speed, brake application, resource management, vehicle maintenance, and driver actions over a certain time frame. This data can also show exactly what the driver was doing at the time of the crash and in the moments leading up to it.

The black box belongs to the trucking company, and its investigators employ specialists to retrieve and evaluate this information. Because of the type of information it contains, the black box is often the best evidence of liability in a truck accident case.

In addition to black box data, trucking company investigators also collect video evidence from smartphones, intersection lights, and local businesses close to the accident site. This type of evidence can show the accident taking place, which can be extremely persuasive in proving who was at fault. Advantages Trucking Companies Have in Investigations

Having an experienced team to arrive at the scene immediately and begin an investigation gives trucking companies several advantages in an accident case. First, investigators can uncover valuable evidence in the aftermath of an accident that can show who or what was responsible for the crash. Knowing what caused the accident can help the trucking company prevent future accidents from occurring, which helps protect the company’s bottom line.

In addition, having a clear understanding of liability early in the case allows the trucking company and its insurance carrier to offer a quick settlement to victims to avoid facing a bigger payout later. Sometimes accident victims will accept a fast offer before they know the full extent of their injuries and costs, and once they’ve accepted the settlement, they can’t pursue further compensation.

Another advantage the trucking company has is greater access to critical evidence, such as driver records, truck maintenance records, and black box data. Having control over the essential information gives the trucking company more control over the claim, which can make proving liability an uphill battle for the victim.

For example, motor carrier regulations don’t require that trucking companies preserve electronic information contained in the black box—even if it proves liability. Black box data can be deleted or recorded over if the truck is still in operation, and the information may only be available to retrieve for a limited time (e.g., 30 days) even when it’s not in use. Without the black box data, it can be difficult to prove the truck driver or trucking company was to blame. Failing to preserve the electronic data or allowing it to be lost or destroyed is legal because the trucking company owns the information, and motor carrier regulations don’t require companies to keep it safe. And even if it has preserved the black box data, the company is not required to voluntarily turn over the device or information to others. It can, and often will, withhold that evidence unless the victim’s attorney gets a court order.

Note that motor carrier regulations do mandate the creation and preservation of certain documentary information, such as the driver qualification file, maintenance records, and cargo records. This evidence cannot be hidden or destroyed, though your attorney must acquire this information through the discovery process if the trucking company doesn’t turn it over voluntarily.

As with all evidence, having the ability to collect and review the relevant information early in the process gives the trucking company the chance to frame the evidence in its favor during settlement negotiations.

How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Investigate and Build Your Claim

Though the trucking company has certain advantages, hiring an experienced truck accident lawyer soon after the crash can make all the difference in your case. A skilled lawyer will begin investigating your case right away and go to work immediately to collect evidence that builds a strong claim.

One of the most important steps your lawyer will take in a truck accident case is sending the trucking company a “spoliation” letter demanding that it preserves all relevant evidence. The Georgia Supreme Court has held that parties have a duty to save documents and information when it is “reasonably foreseeable” the victim may file a legal claim. After an attorney notifies the company that a victim intends to seek evidence for a claim, the trucking company is required to safeguard it.

Your attorney can also acquire evidence and results of the trucking company’s investigation through the discovery process. During discovery, your attorney obtains documents and reports from the company and cross-examines the company’s investigators, officers, and driver through depositions. Your attorney will need to hire a specialist to download and analyze electronic recordings, such as the black box data.

In addition to acquiring the trucking company’s investigation results, your attorney will conduct a separate investigation that involves interviewing witnesses, collecting photographs and video evidence, hiring accident reconstruction experts, and obtaining the police accident report. With the help of a truck accident attorney, you can combat the company’s tactics and collect the evidence you need to prove your injury claim.

Our lawyers go to work immediately to investigate the accident, prove the trucking company is responsible, and ensure you receive maximum compensation for your injuries. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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