Commercial trucking accidents are often complex and require more specific expertise than many other cases a law firm may handle. Whether the incident occurred while the truck was being driven, loaded, unloaded, or otherwise, there is a wealth of information potentially recoverable and many important considerations that only a well-versed expert will be aware of. It can be a daunting task to analyze all of the available information and confidently move forward in a case.
Trucking, accident, and digital evidence experts add a level of clarity and expertise to a case that otherwise would be unattainable. Here are some key things to consider that can help you decide whether you need this type of assistance.
Trucking is a highly regulated industry in the United States. Drivers and the companies that employ them are subject to extensive rules and regulations through the Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act, and it’s crucial to know whether these guidelines were properly adhered to. Drivers are required to confirm on duty driving hours, track mileage, rest time, and other details of their travels to ensure they are not overly fatigued or traveling in an unsafe manner. The companies that employ the drivers must look into a candidate’s driving history, perform background checks, and conduct drug screenings. In addition to strict rules and regulations there are also accepted standards of care that a reasonable person within the industry would understand and a highly accomplished expert could persuasively speak to in a case.
There could also be evidence within the truck or other involved vehicles in the form of the electronic control module (ECM) / Engine control unit (ECU) or event data recorder (EDR) which are also commonly referred to as Black Boxes. The data these devices hold vary between manufacturers, but they generally include information regarding the truck’s maintenance status, driver actions directly before and during the incident, and the vehicle’s overall trip. Things like speed, brake application, and acceleration/deceleration may be of particular importance to the case. A skilled Black Box Forensics expert can facilitate the necessary download and analyze the recovered information converting it into an easy to understand play-by-play.
To ensure drive adherence to the Hours of Service (HOS) rules, logs must be created to record how many hours a commercial driver has driven in a day. These logs are now collected in an Electronic Logging Device or ELD. These devices not only track the hours spent Driving, but also the other duty statuses of On Duty, Off Duty, and time in the Sleeper berth. ELDs also collect detailed GPS location information and are normally connected to the black box in the truck to allow the ELD to report about the condition of the truck and its engine.
Other electronic evidence may be found in the device ubiquitous in all our daily lives – the cell phone. Determining if the driver was distracted will help you understand what you have to work with as the case moves forward. Truck drivers are federally prohibited from using a cell phone while driving and while rules vary from state to state for regular motorists, if someone was using their phone at the time of an accident it could significantly impact their liability in a wreck. There may be a brief window in which you can retrieve information from cell phones as carriers are only required to keep certain data for short periods of time. Quick action including retention of a Cell Phone Forensics Expert is paramount if distracted driving is suspected.
Some accidents are so complicated and difficult to model that an Accident Reconstructionist may be useful. Accident reconstruction is a scientific approach to determine the conditions, events and possible causes that led to a collision. Accident reconstruction specialists are experts in the laws of physics, understanding vehicle movements, and analyzing accident photographs. An accident reconstructionist can determine key variables such as the speed of the vehicle, the angle of impact, if there were attempts to brake or slow the vehicle and if there was an attempt to change direction before the collision. This information can be presented to you in a clear and concise manner, helping your clients and potential jurors understand the information. Sometimes it is even prudent to create an animated reenactment of the accident to help you (and others) fully understand what happened and why it happened.
Incidents involving commercial trucks can be far more complex than a standard motor vehicle accident and there are seemingly endless avenues to explore. Whether you need a trucking expert, a digital forensics expert, or an accident reconstructionist (or some combination of the three), choosing the right expert witness can often be the wisest investment an attorney can make to bring a case to an advantageous close. Don’t go it alone, get experienced help on your side from the start.