Additional Evidence in Truck Wreck Claims
Proof is critical in truck accident claims, because the victim must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Additionally, there is usually a direct relationship between the amount of evidence the victim/plaintiff presents and the amount of damages a Los Angeles County jury awards.
Generally, the police accident report forms the evidentiary foundation in these cases. However, in catastrophic injury claims, such as wrongful death actions, the police report is often incomplete or inaccurate. For example, the all-important accident narrative contains only one side of the story.
Fortunately, there are other sources of proof. However, it’s not easy to obtain and effectively present this evidence.
Event Data Recorder
Almost every commercial and noncommercial vehicle on the road has an EDR. This gadget is similar to the black box flight data recorders on commercial jets.
These devices have been on a few cars since the 1960s. But they had very limited capabilities, and there was no federal law requiring vehicles to carry EDRs. Both these things are different now. Federal law now requires all new vehicles to have these devices. Exact capacity varies by make and model, but generally, EDRs contain crash-related information like:
- Vehicle speed,
- Engine acceleration rate,
- Brake application, and
- Steering angle.
Large truck EDRs are very sophisticated devices. An attorney must have the right expertise and equipment to access and download the information they contain.
California has very strict vehicle information privacy laws. Generally, attorneys must obtain court orders before they can even touch a large truck EDR, let alone present the information it contains in court.
That’s assuming the EDR is available. Frequently, insurance companies destroy wrecked trucks within several days of the accident. So, to prevent EDR loss, attorneys send spoliation letters to vehicle owners and insurance companies. These letters create a legal duty to preserve all potential physical evidence, including the EDR.
Federal privacy laws also shield much of the information in a truck driver’s Safety Maintenance System report. The SMS report is basically a multi-state driving record which keeps track of things like the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s):
- Medical history,
- Safety record,
- Crash history,
- Vehicle maintenance background, and
- Substance use history.
The SMS database collects information directly from law enforcement. So, it’s more reliable than judicial records. For example, if a truck driver gets a fix-it ticket and the driver takes care of the problem, the citation probably will not appear in judicial records. But it will pop up in law enforcement records.
To overcome the aforementioned SMS privacy laws, attorneys must once again obtain court orders, at least in most cases.
Furthermore, records like SMS reports are not always admissible in court. But skilled attorneys do not just know the rules of evidence. They know how to make these rules work for victims.
Electronic Logging Device
ELDs are often critical in drowsy driving claims. Operator fatigue is a serious problem among long-haul truck drivers. Typically, transportation companies pay their drivers by the load and not by the mile. So, operators must stay on the road as long as possible in order to make money.
These gadgets are connected to the truck’s drivetrain. So, when the vehicle is in motion, the HOS (Hours of Service) meter is running. Both California and the federal government have strict laws which limit work hours and mandate rest periods. If the tortfeasor did not follow these laws, and that violation substantially caused the crash, the tortfeasor may be liable for damages as a matter of law.
On a related note, many long-haul truck drivers are on the road late at night or early in the morning. Most people are naturally drowsy during these times, no matter how much rest they had the previous night.
Evidence is critical in truck crash claims. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, contact the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim. Home and hospital visits are available.
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Sharona Eslamboly Hakim, Esq. is a successful personal injury attorney and the principal of the Law Offices of Eslamboly Hakim firm in Beverly Hills, California.