How to Preserve Evidence for a Truck Accident Claim
Semi-trucks, big rigs, 18-wheelers, or tractor-trailers, no matter what you call them, collisions with them often cause severe, catastrophic, and even deadly injuries that tragically change the lives of victims and their families forever. Over the past few decades, between 4,000 and 5,000 individuals
lost their lives in truck accidents each year in the U.S. Sadly, yearly truck accident deaths are a minimum of 30 percent more now than they were just over a decade ago. These shocking figures don’t account for the many more truck accident injury victims who suffer severe non-fatal injuries leaving them in excruciating pain and navigating a lifetime of disabilities. State laws entitle truck crash injury victims and grieving families to use legal action to pursue monetary compensation for the harm they suffer due to these accidents. To succeed in an injury claim for compensation, attorneys for these victims and families typically must collect evidence proving how the wreck occurred and who should be held financially responsible. Many types of evidence can prove valuable or imperative to succeeding in a truck crash injury claim. Preserving that evidence is critical. The best way to preserve evidence is to hire a skilled personal injury attorney who knows what evidence will help your claim and how to collect it.
Evidence Truck Accident Victims Need a Lawyer to Help Them Preserve
Evidence that helps establish how a truck accident happened and who has legal responsibility comes in many different forms. Unfortunately, some evidence belongs to the owners or operators of semi-trucks. As such, injured victims and their families need the help of a skilled semi-truck accident attorney to preserve this evidence as soon as possible after the crash before it is intentionally or unintentionally destroyed or goes missing.
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On-Board Electronic Data Records
Today it’s typical for long-haul trucks to include onboard electronic data collection systems
. These systems serve two chief purposes:
- Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) record a driver’s hours of service and monitor their compliance with federal regulations mandating how much time a truck driver can spend behind the wheel before taking a break; and
- Event Data Recorders (EDRs) monitor truck systems and are like the truck industry equivalent of the black box onboard aircraft.
The information these systems collect can establish fault for a truck accident because they show:
- The truck driver’s work schedule and recent driving history
- The driver’s actions behind the wheel in the moments before the accident, including the truck’s speed, direction, and braking
- The status of critical truck components and systems
- The crash signature of the semi-truck, a unique combination of system failures that occur before and in an accident
- Safety system functions, such as whether the driver was wearing a seatbelt or if the airbags deployed
Information from an ELD and EDR can often be valuable in establishing the trucker driver’s fault for causing an accident. Many truck drivers and trucking carriers resist handing over that data as evidence until an injury victim’s attorney formally requests it through a common legal process known as discovery
. It’s essential to note that these systems often save recorded data for only a limited time (as little as a month) before writing over it. Trucking companies should back up that data on servers and refrain from recording on the devices of a truck involved in a crash. However, those reasonable steps
don’t always happen. Instead, personal injury attorneys representing truck crash victims must act quickly to ensure the company preserves data instead of automatically or intentionally deleting it. Of course, lawyers can’t act until a truck crash victim hires them, which is why it’s essential to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible after suffering injuries in a truck accident.
Truck Maintenance Records
State and federal regulations require truck operators and owners to keep their equipment in safe working order and save records
of that work. Maintenance serves an obvious purpose by minimizing big rig breakdowns that can create a danger to others on the roadways. Unfortunately, some operators and owners cut corners when it comes to proper maintenance, which can potentially result in truck system failures and injuries or fatalities in an accident. Like electronic data, maintenance records can assist a truck accident victim’s attorney with investigating the probable causes of a collision
. Attorneys are generally required to request these records. Experienced lawyers will know that they need to request them soon after the accident so that trucking companies don’t attempt to destroy or change them.
Driver Cell Phone Data
Like almost everyone else, truck drivers have cell phones that automatically collect and store substantial information about their lives, habits, and movements. Considering this, the data from a trucker's mobile phone can also be critical in establishing how a truck crash occurred. For instance, it can reveal:
- That the trucker used the phone to send a text or make a call in the moments preceding the accident, pointing toward dangerous driver distraction as the cause of the accident
- That the trucker didn’t sleep or rest during their legally required rest breaks, hinting at fatigue as a factor in the crash
- The trucker had unhealthy habits, like using drugs or alcohol, making them more likely to cause an accident.
- A phone's GPS data stores the trucker's moment-by-moment physical location, confirming the truck's onboard electronic data collection systems.
Mobile phone data often can give substantial insight about a truck driver that may help explain how an accident happened. Again, preserving that information typically falls on the crash victim’s lawyer, who quickly acts to ensure the valuable information doesn’t get deleted or wind up missing.
Evidence Crash Victims Can Collect/Preserve On Their Own
Although crash victims need a lawyer's assistance
to collect and preserve some of the most valuable evidence supporting their claim for damages, they can also help their case. Here are just a few things that a big rig crash injury victim can gather and preserve vital evidence to maximize their legal rights to injury compensation. Remember that these are simply suggestions. Even if you didn’t act accordingly, you could still have a valuable semi-truck accident claim. Therefore, it’s imperative to meet with an experienced truck accident lawyer as soon as you can to preserve your legal rights.
Pictures or Videos at the Scene of the Accident
After the necessary clean-up crews arrive at a big rig crash scene, valuable evidence often disappears. If you can safely do so without risking yourself or others, or making your injuries worse, take photos of everything you can see before clean-up crews get there, move vehicles from the road, and sweep up debris, shattered glass, and spills. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as too many photos or videos of a truck wreck scene. Capture images of everything, including:
- The damaged vehicles (up close, far away, and from different angles)
- The road surface
- The weather and lighting conditions
- Debris and spills on the road
- Features of the surrounding area, such as tree branches overhanging the road
- Anything else you feel is important regarding the crash
Document the Names and Contact Information for Everyone at the Scene
As much as possible, document the names and contact information of everyone at the accident scene, including:
- Other drivers
- First responders
The police will also get all this information; however, having your own record as a backup never hurts. Instead, it helps your lawyer contact others as soon as possible to get their accounts of what happened.
Don’t Fix Your Damaged Vehicle Yet
You might be in a hurry to have your vehicle repaired or replaced; that's certainly understandable. However, don't rush to take your damaged or destroyed vehicle to the garage/junkyard if you have a way of managing without it for a short time. Vehicle damage is essential physical evidence revealing how a truck crash occurred. However, its damage can provide investigators with vital clues about the forces of an impact, who-hit-who-first, and other information that might contribute to findings of the cause and legal liability for a big rig crash. Consult a lawyer as soon as you can after an accident to allow them to have the vehicle damage inspected before you schedule repairs or trade-in the wrecked car for a new motor vehicle.
Keep All Documents
Documents can contain critical information in proving any truck accident claim. In the weeks and months after your truck crash, keep every paper you get that has anything to do with the collision, your injuries, or medical care. This includes:
- Medical records
- Health insurance statements or explanation of benefits (EOB)
- Law enforcement reports
- Texts or emails
- Letters from defense lawyers or auto insurance carriers
- Receipts from the pharmacy
Keep them in a file or box and bring them to your initial meeting with a truck accident lawyer. The attorney can let you know what to keep and throw out.
Get a Copy of the Official Law Enforcement Accident Report
Law enforcement officers who respond to the scene of a semi-truck collision will complete a report containing their initial findings regarding what happened. Within a week or two, you can order a copy or let your attorney handle this. The official crash report usually details crucial evidence, including:
- Law enforcement’s determination of fault
- Witness and other party contact information
- Witness statements
- Citations issued
Keep a copy for your records, as these details may help support your case. Don't worry or be surprised if the report includes information or findings with which you disagree. It only represents one law enforcement officer's perspective. It isn't automatically the final word on the causes or fault for a motor vehicle accident.
Don’t Create Negative Evidence
It's essential to mention that semi-truck accident victims can also protect their legal rights by using caution not to say or do things that create evidence that might be detrimental to a claim for damages against the parties at fault for the accident. Follow these tips:
Stay off Social Media
Believe it or not, defense lawyers, their staff, and insurance carriers monitor social media for any information or post that they might twist into an argument regarding why accident victims shouldn't receive fair compensation for their injuries. Posting something as innocent as a photo of yourself smiling or something that says you feel okay can sadly cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Be safe and simply stay away from social media until your legal claim resolves.
Don’t Talk to Defense Lawyers or Insurance Companies
Although they might seem friendly, if a defense attorney or insurance claims adjuster reaches out to you, it’s in your best interest not to talk to them. Their goal is to undermine your claim by getting you to say something that might help absolve their client or insured of liability or to get you to settle for less than your claim is worth. Politely inform them that you are represented by an attorney and give them your attorney’s name if you’d like. If you must speak to them, your lawyer will arrange it and protect your interests by attending with you.
Reach out to an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Today
Finally, contact an experienced truck accident lawyer
as soon as possible after the crash. It's likely now evident why you need legal counsel to handle your claim. The longer you wait to hire a lawyer, the greater the chances that valuable evidence in your claim will be lost or destroyed forever. Maximize your compensation and protect your claim by reaching out today.