Proving Fault in Personal Injury: Trucking Accidents

Jun 25, 2015

Getting t-boned, sideswiped, or rear-ended by a commercial truck leaves thousands of Ohio residents injured, disabled, and dead each year. Whether you call them semis, tractor-trailers, or big rigs, the vehicles become real and present dangers when operated negligently or recklessly. Trucks in poor repair, outfitted with defective equipment, and driven for hours without rest also present risks that too often become tragic realities.

Everyone recognizes this. Still, proving to an insurance company or court that a truck driver or owner bears responsibility for causing a wreck or taking a life can be difficult. Settling claims and receiving compensation often requires collecting and presenting multiple forms of physical evidence, extensive data analyses, and reams of testimony from the people involved, health care providers, and technical experts.

That is true because neither an insurer nor a trucking company wants to pay the financial costs of a crash. Each will do all the law allows to redirect blame onto an accident victim. That strategy can only succeed so far in Ohio, where state law does not disqualify injury or death claims due to findings of contributory fault. Because any reduction in an insurance payout or lawsuit award can leave injured individuals and grieving families struggling, though, knowing how to prove fault for a trucking accident is essential.

Here is how to do that, based on the decades of combined experience possessed by Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman personal injury lawyers.

Take Crash Scene Photos if Possible

Smartphone pictures and videos can be as important to truck accident cases as they often are to criminal prosecutions. No one should ever refuse medical care or endanger themselves in order to get photographic or filmed evidence in the immediate aftermath of a crash, but having visual representations of how vehicles were positioned at the point of impact or where they came to rest can be priceless.

Get a Copy of the Police Report

Every city, county, and state police department is required to make its crash reports available to members of the public. Obtaining the documents can cost money, but those fees often get reimbursed to plaintiffs by their lawyers or absorbed by law firms. When contacting law enforcement officials, accident victims should ask for both the final report and any available preliminary reports.

Review the Operator’s Log

Truck driver fatigue stands as one of the leading causes of fatal accidents. No trucker can stay in the designated travel lane, avoid a rear-end collision, or stop at red light if he or she has fallen asleep at the wheel. Federal and state laws limit the number of hours truckers can drive without resting, with regulations enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also requiring sleep periods of several hours between long shifts and a maximum number of driving hours each week.

Such rules include requirements for drivers to log their drive times and rest periods. Accessing an operator’s log in the wake of a wreck can be difficult, but it is a task an experienced truck crash attorney can handle for a client.

Analyze Black Box Data

Commercial trucks that cross state lines must be equipped with a data recorder called a black box. The device stores information on the vehicle’s speed, direction, engine performance, and brake usage that can show whether a truck driver was operating safely. Importantly, falsifying an operator’s log or tampering with a black box can be used as evidence against a trucker or truck owner.

Request a Physical Inspection of the Rig

Any claim that a tire blowout, brake failure, or engine malfunction set the stage for a truck accident demands verification. Even when police investigators conduct a physical examination of a vehicle, paying for a second opinion can make sense for two reasons. First, calling findings “official” does not equate to declaring the findings 100 percent correct. The other concern is that if faulty maintenance or defective manufacturing is to blame for a wreck, an accident victim may have grounds for pursuing claims against a service provider or equipment maker.

Do Not Dismiss the Importance of Depositions and Testimony

Claims and lawsuits arising from truck crashes often get resolved based on eyewitness testimony and expert opinion. A majority of this “he said, she said” information gets collected during a pretrial process called deposition. Working with an Ohio civil litigation attorney while being deposed is essential to protecting your legal rights and personal interests.

Recognize the Importance of Medical Evidence

A tactic insurers and trucking companies love to use to reduce their financial liability involves arguing that accident victims suffered from preexisting conditions. That is, they may argue that a neck and back injury that occurred years before is the actual cause of a crash victim’s pain and inability to return to work. They may even suggest that the only way to qualify for a settlement is to undergo an examination by a doctor of their choice. Do not believe the companies.

Need Help With a Trucking Accident Injury Claim?

Victims of truck accidents owe it to themselves to at least consult with Ohio personal injury and wrongful death attorneys. Gathering, interpreting, and distilling all the evidence needed to substantiate an insurance claim or succeed in a civil lawsuit requires time, financial resources, and expertise someone who is not an attorney may not possess.

Lawyers at all nine of the Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman offices across Ohio are ready to assist with the sometimes difficult job of proving fault for a truck crash. Contact us today to schedule a free case consultation.

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Worker’s Comp Lawyers Columbus, Ohio - Agee Clymer

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Columbus, OH 43215