Posted On January 14, 2011 In Personal Injury,Truck Accidents
East Texas recently received a tragic, sobering, reminder of just how devastating 18-Wheeler wrecks can be. On January 4, 2011, Mary Chiz of Garrison and her fiancé, Travis, were severely injured when a big rig truck crashed into their SUV in Diboll, Texas. Even more tragically, the couple lost their unborn baby boy, Wyatt, who was expected to be born within 2 weeks of the accident. Details of the accident have been reported in several stories by the Lufkin Daily News.
Based on news coverage and the scene photos, it appears that the Chiz vehicle had been stopped behind one truck at a traffic light when a second 18-Wheeler slammed into them at high speed. The SUV was crushed by the impact and even the 18-Wheeler showed significant damage from the force of the crash. Our hearts and prayers go out for the family in this tragic accident so close to home.
Reading accounts of this accident and others that have been reported recently, brings to mind so many reasons why victims of these types of serious accidents desperately need skilled trucking accident attorneys to zealously, and aggressively, protect their rights. As one might imagine, victims of these type accidents focus on the immediate crisis of injured loved ones. In the immediate hours and days following this kind of tragedy, the victims don’t have the luxury of long term planning. They must focus on emergency medical treatment, paying bills, and in the worst cases, making funeral arrangements.
Unfortunately, in the hours and days following the wreck, the trucking company has very different priorities on which to focus. The trucking company and their insurance company will be focused on ‘circling the wagons’ to limit their financial exposure and liability for damages caused by the accident. These companies are very sophisticated when it comes to protecting themselves. Critical evidence can be lost, or even destroyed, if an experienced attorney is not retained to protect the rights of the victims.
Many people assume that the police will test the truck driver for drugs and alcohol after an accident like this. Not so. The police have no obligation to conduct drug and alcohol tests, and most often, only conduct tests if the driver demonstrates obvious intoxication symptoms. However, the trucking company is required by federal law to immediately perform a drug and alcohol test on the driver after an accident of this nature. Unfortunately, many trucking companies ignore the law because they simply don’t want to risk the chance of finding drugs and alcohol in the driver’s system. After a serious accident, the last thing a trucking company wants is documentation of the driver’s drug or alcohol intoxication. However, if the accident victim immediately retains an experienced trucking accident attorney, he or she can file emergency paperwork with the court to compel drug and alcohol testing of the driver.
Modern trucks have Black Box style recorders in the form of an ECM (Electronic Control Module, or EDR (Event Data Recorder). These computer modules can record critical evidence in a crash. One of the most important pieces of evidence to obtain from the computer is referred to as a ‘Hard Stop’ event. Essentially, the computer takes a ‘snap shot’ of what is happening with the truck any time the driver slams on the brakes. Engine RPM’s, speed, transmission gear, etc. are all recorded. This evidence becomes critical when the truck driver later claims to have been obeying the speed limit before the crash. Unfortunately, the computer acts much in the same way as the old surveillance VCR recorders i.e., they continue to record over, and erase, old data. Most Black Boxes only record the last 1 to 3 ‘hard braking’ events. Therefore, if the truck is put back in service after the wreck and the driver happens to accidently ‘hit the brakes hard’ while driving around his company’s parking lot, critical evidence establishing fault of the truck driver will be destroyed. It can be very important for your attorney to immediately obtain a download of the truck’s computer as soon as possible following the accident.
Truck drivers are also required by federal law to maintain a complete record of their time behind the wheel and their total working time. For obvious public safety reasons, the law limits the number of hours a driver can drive. These ‘hours of service’ rules are often flagrantly violated by some trucking companies with predictable and tragic results. The most common accident involving a fatigued driver is a rear end collision. Unfortunately, in the hours and days following accidents of this nature, many drivers (or their companies) will attempt to ‘recreate’ or ‘cleanse’ the driver logs to remove any evidence of the driver’s illegal time behind the wheel. An experienced trucking accident lawyer can prevent evidence tampering by immediately issuing supoenas for the driver logs. Likewise, there are a number of ways that an experienced truck wreck attorney can identify and expose fabricated driver logs. Our office recently presented a CLE paper demonstrating the best ways to identify and expose fabricated driver logs. * Prosecuting or Defending a Trucking or Auto Accident Case 2010 hosted by the State Bar of Texas in San Antonio.
Many big truck accidents are a direct result of the failure to maintain the trucks and trailers driving up and down the road. Again, federal law sets out minimum standards that trucking companies must comply with to ensure public safety. Our firm has successfully prosecuted many big truck accidents which were directly caused by a failure to properly maintain the vehicles. These accidents are often caused by faulty brakes, tires, steering components, or defective lighting on the trailers. Our firm has even prosecuted cases where entire sets of wheels fell off the 18-Wheeler and crashed into another vehicle. In defective maintenance cases, it is critical to obtain an immediate inspection of the defective equipment before evidence is lost or destroyed.
If you, or a loved one, have been involved in a serious accident involving an 18-Wheeler or other commercial vehicle, these are just a few of the many reasons you should contact an experienced truck wreck attorney as soon as possible after the accident. Our firm stands ready to assist upon a moment’s notice.