Commercial truck accidents happen all of the time in Illinois and across the country.
In 2012, nearly 4,000 people died in these crashes, and 104,000 were injured, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports.
Out of those who died, 73 percent were drivers or passengers in the other vehicles.
Because evidence can become quickly lost or destroyed after one of these accidents, an investigation must take place right away.
A victim can take action that will help to investigate a truck crash. One of these steps is to contact an experienced truck accident attorney, who will know how to conduct an efficient and complete investigation.
At Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., we offer free consultations so a victim will not hesitate in getting the immediate legal help he or she needs.
The primary focus of the truck crash investigation will be to determine liability. If a party is liable for a crash, it means the party is legally responsible for paying for a victim’s medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering and other harm.
In a truck accident case, many parties can be held liable. Liability generally will hinge on whether a party neglected a duty to protect others. This duty often arises where a party had control over certain people or instruments. Illinois trucking regulations and federal trucking regulations also establish duties.
Steps You Can Take to Determine Truck Accident Liability
If you were injured in a crash involving a large commercial motor vehicle (also called tractor-trailers, big rigs, semis or CMVs), the very first steps you take can help later on with establishing liability. Specific steps you can take include:
Most phones today have a camera. Use it to take photos of the truck and all other vehicles involved. You can also get photos of skid marks, scattered glass and debris, traffic controls or road signs.
Exchanging information with other driver.
Simply exchange name, contact and insurance information. Do not make any statements about the crash.
Getting names of witnesses.
At a minimum, get the names and contact information of any witness who stays on the scene. If possible, make quick notes of what the person saw or heard.
Cooperating with police.
Give the police officer all requested information. This information will go into a police report. Later on, you can contact the agency and get a copy of this report.
Getting medical treatment.
In addition to protecting your health, getting immediate medical treatment (and documenting it) will help to establish the harm you have suffered.
Writing down what you remember.
Once you have a moment to collect yourself, jot down what you recall about the crash while those details are still fresh in your mind.
Report accident to your insurance company.
You only need to provide basic facts about the crash to your insurer. You do not need to give a recorded statement. Never speak with an insurance company representing any other party until you speak with a lawyer first.
Contact an attorney.
Don’t wait to get legal help. Again, acting efficiently is crucial in a truck accident investigation. Do your research and find an attorney you trust to handle your case. Bring all materials you have collected to your initial consultation. The attorney can take the investigation from there.
Steps Your Lawyer Will Take to Determine Truck Accident Liability
Once retained, an attorney can immediately launch an investigation. The attorney may handle much of the investigation personally and may also work with skilled investigators and experts. Evidence the attorney will collect and analyze includes:
- The police report
- Crash scene photos (including exterior and interior photos of all vehicles)
- Electronic data recorder (EDR, or “black box”) data
- Logbooks and the driver’s inspection, maintenance and shipping records.
- Driver cell phone records
- Witness statements
- Company financial data
- Insurance information.
All of this evidence will play an important role in negotiating a settlement or presenting a case to a judge and jury.
Parties Who May Be Potentially Liable After a Semi Crash
The evidence collected in a truck accident investigation may establish the liability of one or more of the following parties:
A 18 wheeler driver may be liable for negligently operating a truck by speeding, tailgating, running a red light or stop sign, failing to yield or driving recklessly. Alcohol or drug use, distraction by an electronic device or fatigue may be contributing factors. A driver may also be liable for neglecting duties such as loading and handling cargo or inspecting and maintaining the truck. In some cases, a crash is caused by a driver failing to follow proper protocol when pulled over to the side of the road.
A trucking company may be liable for the negligent acts of its drivers. The company, or carrier, may also be responsible for its own direct negligence. For instance, the company may have hired an unlicensed or unqualified driver or a driver with a history of traffic violations. The company may have failed to properly supervise drivers. The company may have also encouraged drivers to violate rules such as hours-of-service regulations that restrict the hours a driver can be on the road. Additionally, the company may have failed to properly inspect, maintain and repair the trucks in its fleet. (A mechanic could also be liable if faulty repairs caused a crash). A carrier that leases vehicles may be liable as well.
Many truck accidents are caused by cargo (including hazardous materials) that is not properly loaded and secured or that exceeds weight limits. The shipping company may be liable in these situations, particularly if the cargo was already sealed when the trucker or truck carrier took control of the cargo.
Insurance Company or Broker
If an insurance company played any role in evaluating and hiring a dangerous driver, the insurer could be held liable for its negligence. Additionally, a broker who connects a shipping company with a trucker or truck carrier may be liable.
A tractor-trailer has many parts that must work properly in order for the vehicle to travel safely. A manufacturer of the truck or its parts could be liable if a part fails due to a defect and causes a crash. Examples include defective tires, axles, brakes, gears or coupling devices commonly called “kingpins.”
A local, state or federal agency may be liable if a defectively designed or maintained road caused a truck crash. For instance, a crash could result from potholes or deteriorating road shoulders. A victim’s injuries could be made worse by crashing into a defective guardrail. However, notice and immunity issues often arise when holding government agencies accountable for a crash – yet another reason why it is important to work with an experienced truck crash attorney.