Evidence in Truck Crash Claims
June 26th, 2019
Large semi-trailers are very common in Harris County, because the Port of Houston is one of the busiest cargo seaports in the world. These massive vehicles usually carry hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel and weigh over 80,000 pounds. Finally, due to the ongoing truck driver shortage, many of these operators have little experience behind the wheel.
The combination of large vehicles, lots of traffic, and inexperienced drivers leads to a number of large truck crashes in Houston. Since these collisions often cause catastrophic injuries, the victims may be entitled to substantial compensation.
But the insurance company does not simply give this money away. In fact, the victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof in these cases. Victims must establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Additionally, there’s usually a direct relationship between the amount of evidence the victim/plaintiff presents and the amount of compensation a Harris County jury awards.
So, an effective commercial vehicle attorney must be more than a good litigator and a top negotiator. AN attorney must also be a good investigator. Usually, the evidence gathering phase in a truck crash case focuses on the following four areas.
Medical bills, witness statements, including the victim/plaintiff’s own testimony, and the police accident report usually form the foundation of a claim for damages.
Hospital and other medical bills convey cold, hard facts about the victim/plaintiff’s injuries. These facts are a good foundation for a legal claim. The medical codes and diagnosis notes give the jury an even better idea about the seriousness of the victim/plaintiff’s injuries. Finally, medical bills also often include physician and nurse treatment notes. These notes give the numbers a face.
Due to privacy laws, non-attorneys often have a hard time obtaining these critical records. But an experienced injury lawyer can expedite this process. Furthermore, there are some very technical evidentiary rules in this area. A lawyer knows all these rules and loopholes.
Eyewitness testimony is important as well. Something almost mystical happens when witnesses take the stand and simply tells juror what they saw.
But there is a downside. Some witnesses are biased or incompetent. “Bias” does not mean that they lie on the stand. However, if the witness has a connection to the victim, the witness might remember things differently. Likewise, “incompetent” does not mean insane or anything extreme like that. Some witnesses do not wear prescribed eyewear or are at a poor observation angle.
The police accident report is normally admissible at trial. These reports are basically a hybrid of eyewitness statements and medical records.
There is a downside here as well. Even the most experienced first responder is not a professional accident reconstructionist. Responders do they best they can with the evidence they have, but many times, they do not know all the facts. That’s especially true if, as is common in large truck crashes, the wreck seriously injured or killed the victim/plaintiff. In these cases, the police accident report may only contain one side of the story.
So, the foundation alone may not be enough, especially if maximum compensation is the goal. Fortunately, additional evidence is also available in large truck crash claims.
Event Data Recorder
Most large trucks have EDRs. These gadgets are a lot like the black box flight data recorders in commercial aircraft. Capacity varies by make and model, but most large truck EDRs measure and store information like:
- Vehicle speed,
- Brake application,
- Engine RPM, and
- Steering angle.
Many times, an eyewitness can provide the same basic information. But an EDR may be preferable for several reasons.
Assuming the device is working properly, EDRs are never biased or incompetent. It’s almost impossible for insurance company lawyers to successfully challenge EDR information in court. Additionally, tech-savvy Harris County jurors respond very well to electronic information. EDR data usually resonates very well with a juror who may be on the fence.
This important evidence is easy to lose. Large truck EDRs are technically sophisticated devices. You cannot inspect and download it with just a screwdriver and a laptop. Your attorney needs access to the right tools and the right people.
Furthermore, many insurance companies destroy totaled trucks within a couple of days. If that happens, the EDR is gone forever. To prevent such an outcome, an attorney must quickly send a spoliation letter to the insurance company. This letter creates a legal duty to preserve all potential evidence in the case, including the EDR.
Finally, there are legal concerns. Texas has very strong vehicle data privacy laws. Unless a lawyer has a properly-constructed court order, the insurance company will bar access to the EDR.
Electronic Logging Device
Many of these same points apply to the ELD. These gadgets keep track of HOS (hours of service) compliance. To reduce fatigued truck driving, both Texas and the federal government have very strict rules regarding mandatory rest and break periods.
So, like the EDR establishes some vital things about the crash, the ELD may provide direct evidence of drowsy driving. Circumstantial evidence is also admissible on this point. Most people are naturally drowsy early in the morning or late at night, especially if the highway hypnosis effect is an issue.
The shipping industry knows how important this evidence can be in liability lawsuits. That’s why their lawyers fought the ELD mandate all the way to the Supreme Court. An adverse ruling by the High Court cleared the way for the ELD mandate to take effect.
Team Up with Aggressive Lawyers
Large truck crashes usually cause serious injuries, and evidence is vital in these cases. For a free consultation with an experienced truck accident attorney in Houston, contact Simmons & Fletcher, P.C. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.
Christopher K. Fletcher has been practicing law since 2009. He attended Baylor University School of Law and graduated with a special concentration in Civil Litigation. Since then, he has dedicated his career to representing personal injury victims. Chris was named Top 40 Under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers in 2017, 2018 and 2019.