Truck accidents cause tens of thousands of serious injuries every year in the United States, and thousands of injuries in New Hampshire alone. Although increased regulation of the trucking industry has resulted in a slight reduction in the number of accidents involving large commercial motor vehicles, the increasing popularity of “smart phones” has resulted in an increase in accidents due to driver inattention or distraction. This increase mirrors the nationwide increase in non-truck-related accidents due to texting, checking messages, etc.
The most common causes of truck accidents are:
- Drunken driving
- Drug use
- Improper maintenance
- Aggressive/impatient driving
- Tire blowouts
- Improperly secured cargo
In an effort to combat the serious danger to the public associated with accidents involving semis and other large commercial motor vehicles, laws have been enacted to address virtually every common cause of truck accidents listed above. For example, to reduce the number of tired truckers on the road, long-haul operators are limited in the amount of time they can spend on the road during a haul and are required to take a breaks. Detailed logs are required to be maintained and must be available for inspection. Failure to maintain detailed and accurate log books can result in the trucker losing his/her license and being fined. To improve compliance with these laws, many trucking companies have installed tracking devices on trucks that enables realtime monitoring of a trucker’s time/distance traveled and the timing and duration of breaks. This technology can also record other aspects of the driver’s on-road actions such as the speed of the truck (with corresponding data about the speed limit in the area to assess whether the trucker is speeding).
Trucking laws also require detailed inspections of commercial motor vehicles before they head out on the road and during a haul. These inspections must also be documented carefully and be available for inspection. There are also numerous laws governing the weight and securing of cargo.
Truckers, unlike operators of passenger vehicles, are subject to strict “zero tolerance” laws concerning alcohol and sedating drug use.
There are also zero tolerance laws restricting use of cell phones while operating a commercial motor vehicle. Unlike operators of passenger vehicles, truck drivers are not permitted to even look at their phones while driving and phone calls cannot distract the driver in any way. All calling, answering of calls, and cell phone discussions must be able to be performed without the truck driver taking his/her eyes off the road. Texting and reading texts are obviously prohibited.Truck Accident Investigations: Determining Fault in a Truck Accident That Occurred in New Hampshire
As noted above, modern technology now allows trucking companies to monitor whether their drivers are speeding, driving erratically, engaging in sudden braking (often associated with tailgating), exceeding the amount of time on the road, or not taking required breaks, among other things. If the trucking company is tracking its drivers in realtime, that data should be recovered after an accident because of the wealth of information it can provide about the driver’s actions leading up to an accident and at the time of the accident. It is extremely important that a “preservation letter” be sent to the trucking company that employs the driver immediately after an accident that results in serious injuries. A preservation letter requires the trucking company to keep and not alter all data about a driver and an accident, including any realtime data.
The vast majority of commercial vehicles also have a “black box” that tracks the driver’s actions. A black box does not always transmit that data to the trucking company in realtime and may only store the information for use in the event of an accident. The data in a black box generally includes the speed of the truck, the frequency of braking, the timing of braking, and sudden or unusual driving maneuvers. For the same reason it is critical that realtime data be kept intact for analysis after an accident, it is crucial that a preservation letter be sent to the driver and his employer so that the black box and the data therein is maintained and not altered in any way.
Needless to say, a proper investigation of a truck accident requires careful examination of the realtime and black box data. Experts in accident reconstruction and information technology need to be retained to piece together the minute details in that data that can be extremely important in determining fault.
Regardless whether electronic data is available, all “hard copied” documentation such as log books, maintenance records, and cargo weight records should be reviewed. In many, if not the majority of cases, the causes of and fault for an accident involving commercial motor vehicle are extremely difficult to determine and small details can make all the difference in determining the outcome of a case. For example, even slightly overloading a truck can increase the truck’s stopping distance to such an extent that the additional, excessive weight can be found to be the primary cause of an accident.
In addition to analyzing tracking data, a thorough investigation of a trucking accident requires documenting the accident scene through photographs, video, and measurements of physical evidence at the scene such as skid marks. This evidence, particularly evidence of the location and length of skid marks, can prove to be very important in determining the cause of an accident and who was at fault.
Preservation letters should also require that truckers do not alter their cell phone records such as texts and emails. Legally, a trucker who receives a preservation letter is not permitted to alter the data on his/her phone by, for example, deleting a text conversation. The sad reality is that, despite this legal obligation, records are destroyed, sometimes intentionally, sometimes by accident. Fortunately, cell phones store an amazing amount of data that, even if deleted, is often recoverable. Needless to say, the trucker’s cell phone use should be analyzed as part of any investigation to determine whether he/she was paying attention to something on his/her phone and not paying attention to the road.
While electronic data, hard-copied documents, and accident scene evidence are critically important to a truck accident investigation, a thorough investigation must also include obtaining statements from witnesses. Although eye-witness accounts of how an accident happened can be helpful, it is important to recognize that accidents often occur so fast that witnesses’ recollections of how an accident happened can be unreliable and are frequently inconsistent with the physical evidence at an accident scene. To illustrate this point, we recently had a case where the driver of a passenger vehicle who was involved in a truck accident thought that his vehicle had gone off the left side of the road when, in fact, it went off the right side of the road. Because of the limited reliability of witness recollections, obtaining physical evidence and data is of utmost importance when investigating a truck crash.
Truck accidents that result in serious injuries are almost always investigated by the State Police. These official investigations are generally quite thorough and accurate. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and time, analytical errors and omissions occur which, if not corrected, can result in fault being improperly assigned. Even in cases where responsibility for an accident is correctly assigned by the State Police, their findings and conclusions may be subject to attack if the investigation is flawed in any way. For that reason, both insurance companies for the trucking company and attorneys representing injured parties almost always conduct their own investigations alongside the State Police investigation.Obtaining Compensation for Injuries Caused in a Trucking Accident
If a truck driver is responsible for causing an accident in New Hampshire, the trucking company he/she works for will be liable to compensate all parties injured by the trucker’s negligence or recklessness for harm they have suffered and losses they have incurred. The injured party(ies) is entitled to compensation for things such as past and future medical expenses, lost income, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, impairment in performing daily activities and engaging in pastimes, harm to relationships, disfigurement (scarring), and psychological injuries.
Because New Hampshire law requires that the injured party asserting a claim for personal injuries must prove his or her injuries, the trucking company’s insurance company will not being willing to pay compensation until proof of the injury has been provided. Simply telling the insurance company that you have lost income, won’t be able to work, or that you will have permanent pain or impairment isn’t enough; evidence that would be admissible in court is required. As you would expect, even in the face of such evidence, insurance companies often push back by, for example, claiming that injuries pre-existed an accident or that future medical expenses will not be necessary. Given that reality, it is critical to be able to marshal the best possible evidence by providing, among other things, opinions from medical and other experts who are highly respected in their fields. Often insurance companies will retain their own experts. Therefore, in serious accident cases is necessary to have the best possible people in your corner to ensure that you will come out on the winning end.Negotiating With an Insurance Company Following a Serious Truck Accident
Upon being notified of an accident and potential personal injury claims, the trucking company’s insurance company will assign an insurance “adjuster” to a claim. The adjuster is the point of contact that the injured party has with the insurance company and is the one who generally negotiates the claim. Insurance adjusters are trained in tactics designed to get the injured party to make mistakes and, ultimately, accept less than they should receive for their injuries and losses. Obviously insurance companies make money by not paying money out. Despite this fairly obvious fact, many people get seduced by the common insurance adjuster tactic of “making nice.” The “make nice” tactic generally involves the adjuster making vague promises that you will “be take care of” or assurances that the truck driver is at fault and you are not to blame. It is only when the accident victim seeks something more than the low-ball offer that the adjuster is authorized to make that accident victims realize they’ve been duped and that for months and months (and, in some cases, years) the insurance adjuster has been doing everything possible behind the scenes to either establish that the truck driver was not at fault or minimize your injuries (or both). Delay almost always works in the insurance company’s favor, particularly if the delay results in a claim not being brought within the Statute of Limitations period.
After taking off the gloves and showing their true side, insurance adjusters are trained to wear down claimants and get them to make a lower settlement demand than they would have otherwise made. Even though the adjuster never had any intention of paying more than a low-ball amount, by obtaining the claimant’s bottom line, the insurance company knows that when the claimant ends up calling an attorney for assistance, that information will give the insurer leverage in subsequent negotiations. Simply put, revealing your bottom line to an insurance company before at least getting input from an experienced personal injury attorney almost always works to your disadvantage and is always an obstacle if the attorney believes that your compensation should be considerably more than you initially requested.
In addition to having the effect of wearing down a claimant, stalling tactics also serve to increase the financial pressure that most accident victims and their families are experiencing following a serious accident. By telling an insurance adjuster about those pressures, you may be unwittingly giving the adjuster additional leverage in negotiations.Peter Thompson & Associates: New Hampshire’s Leading Truck Accident Attorneys
Our award-winning attorneys have over 60 years combined experience investigating truck accidents, negotiating with insurance companies, and obtaining outstanding results for our clients. Like most personal injury law firms in New Hampshire, we offer free, no obligation consultations and are only paid if you win. With offices throughout New Hampshire, we represent truck accident victims and their families Statewide. If you are unable to come to us, we’ll come to you. Call 800.804.2004 or fill out an our online form to speak with one our attorneys today.