Truck accident investigations are especially thorough for several reasons. First, the damage is often significant. Crashes involving trucks commonly produce catastrophic injury and death. Second, because trucks are commercial vehicles, there are often multiple parties and complex situations leading to a truck accident.
Getting to the truth isn’t always easy, but it is essential.
Our Houston truck accident attorneys explain how truck accidents are investigated.
A Police Crash Report for a Truck Accident Is Just the Beginning
Texas has more fatal truck crashes each year than any other state (NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts). For victims and public safety, these crashes need to be investigated.
When a truck accident occurs, the police should respond. They will conduct their investigation and create a crash report. For a victim, a report generated by law enforcement is a helpful tool. It will have names of witnesses and a notation of factors that may have been involved in the crash. The law enforcement officer will most likely be experienced in investigating traffic crashes, so their insights can be helpful.
A police accident report should be seen as only the beginning of the investigation. A law enforcement officer investigates a crash to see if laws have been broken and for traffic safety reasons. They aren’t necessarily helping the victim build a case for compensation. The victim should take what’s in the police report, verify or disprove it, and then build on it.
Investigating A Truck Accident
From the victim’s perspective, a truck accident investigation should answer several questions:
- What events or series of events caused the accident?
- Who has personal fault for the crash? Why? Do their actions amount to legal negligence?
- Are there additional parties that may be responsible such as the driver’s employer or a truck manufacturer?
- How did the actions of each negligent party lead to the crash?
A truck accident investigation looks for what happened, why and how it happened, and who is responsible. Then, the victim must identify their damages and the compensation they deserve.
Evidence gathered from the accident scene
The accident scene itself can tell a powerful story about what happened. Investigators may look for the following:
- Where each vehicle came to rest on the road
- Location of damage on each vehicle and severity of damage
- Tire marks
- Debris in the road
- Damage to signs and fixtures
- Weather and road conditions at the time of the crash
- The presence of fluid on the roads
Photographs and videos taken at the accident scene can document this information. Accident reconstruction specialists can evaluate the findings to determine the locations of vehicles, speed, and path of travel leading up to the accident.
Witness and victim testimony
Witness testimony is powerful whether the person is directly involved in the accident or a bystander. A witness can speak about what they observed. Their testimony may be offered as proof of a fact, or it may lead the investigation to additional information.
Witness testimony can be powerful, but it also has its limitations. A witness may not have been in a good position to observe something. They may have a reason that their opinion is biased. They may not be truthful. However, witness testimony can be an important part of a trucking accident investigation by providing key evidence and leading to additional information.
From the employer
In any trucking accident, there is a possibility that the trucking company’s actions played a role in the crash. Employer training records, hiring practices, driving schedules, and vehicle maintenance should all be considered. The driver’s criminal and driving history may be important, as well as whether the vehicle was in any other crashes. It may be helpful to physically inspect the damaged truck.
Of course, the truck driver’s employer isn’t likely to readily volunteer information or hand over employee records. It is often necessary to use the formal discovery process to review records. This information can be accessed in formal litigation. Our lawyers can help you use discovery effectively to investigate your case.
If an alcohol or drug test was done for the truck driver, the results are an important part of any investigation. The use of alcohol or drugs may be a decisive factor in fault for the crash. The police report may indicate whether drugs or alcohol may have been a factor and if a chemical test was administered.
Other electronic records
A vehicle may have an event data recorder. Commercial trucks often have employer GPS systems. Cell phone data may be useful. Data recorders that track events in real time may be an important part of the investigation.
Possibilities and probabilities
A trucking accident investigation should start broadly. The investigator should look at many things that could be possible. For example, was the driver under the influence? When did they last sleep? How were inspections and maintenance conducted on the truck? What records were kept of employee training?
An investigation should start by considering all the possibilities. Then, the investigator should determine where to focus and what information may be key to the accident. Litigation can focus on disputed issues and the appropriate victim compensation.
Conducting a timely investigation
It’s best to start conducting a truck accident investigation as soon as possible. Memories can fade quickly following a crash. Evidence can become harder to find. Beginning an investigation in a timely manner can make the entire process faster and easier.
It’s also important to note that the investigation process isn’t necessarily linear. In each case, there isn’t an exact set of steps to follow. Investigators should know what things to look for, and they should follow the leads and additional questions that arise during their investigation. They should pay special attention to facts and issues that may be raised in defense because countering these issues will be an important part of representing the client in litigation.
Once the investigation is complete, lawyers evaluate the information to determine who is legally liable and what compensation the victim deserves. Then, they build their case with admissible evidence to help their client claim fair compensation for the crash.