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Commercial Vehicle Accidents: Race to the Scene

When a commercial motor vehicle such as an 18-wheeler or tractor-trailer collides with a car or light truck, the consequences can be disastrous. The comparative weight and speed of the vehicles involved in these accidents lead to crushing odds for the passengers in the smaller vehicles. But even more daunting is the ability of a large commercial carrier to set up a rapid response team at the scene of an accident to gather evidence that can be used against the driver of the passenger car.

After an accident, while the car driver and passengers could be calling their loved ones or receiving treatment for injuries, the driver of the commercial vehicle has already notified his or her employer, who immediately sends a team of accident investigators to the scene to control the damage, so to speak. The trucking company's accident investigators will have complete access to the commercial vehicle's logs and records, and unless the passengers contact an attorney right away, the trucking company will manage the scene.

The information and evidence gathered at the scene can be the most powerful and effective when shown at the negotiating table or to a jury. For this reason, injured parties that call experienced personal injury lawyers immediately after accidents can improve their chances of obtaining full and fair compensation for related injuries and expenses.

Evidence That a Personal Injury Attorney Will Gather From the Scene

Commercial drivers are required by federal laws and regulations to maintain numerous records, including daily logs of driving time on duty and rest time off duty; records of inspection, repair and maintenance; roadside inspection reports; driver vehicle inspection reports; and other records. See Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 C.F.R. §§ 350-399.

Commercial drivers must follow detailed requirements concerning the length of on-duty and off-duty time periods, and frequently, mistakes or deliberate deviations from the rules occur when drivers must hurry to finish trips. Fraudulent reports on drivers' logs can actually trigger federal criminal charges, but more importantly, fraud in drivers' logs places in question the capacity of the driver to drive safely.

Commercial drivers are also prohibited from consuming alcohol within four hours of going on duty or driving. Further restrictions are in place for operators of vehicles carrying hazardous materials. Attorneys and their accident investigators will need to gather copies of records, preferably at the scene, to prevent drivers or company officials from altering the documents. Victim's lawyers must also ensure that commercial drivers are properly tested for controlled substances after accidents. Accidents involving hazardous materials also require extensive investigation.

What Will an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Do at the Scene?

To someone injured in an accident with a tractor-trailer, calling legal counsel to investigate the scene of the accident may seem trivial, or at least a low priority. But when the trucking company has accident investigators swarming the scene, the injured party needs a representative there, too. An experienced personal injury attorney can arrive on the scene with accident investigators to begin looking for clues about the accident and gathering logs. The accident scene can be preserved through photographs and video. If possible, investigators will gather the names and addresses of persons involved and witnesses to the accident.

These measures can create the best evidence to put before a jury or at the negotiating table to obtain full and fair compensation. And while some of this evidence can be re-created after the fact, some may be lost for good if it is not obtained or preserved at the scene.

Article provided by Chaiken & Chaiken, P.C.

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