Accident Investigation

Prompt and thorough investigation is essential.

Victims and their families are often at a serious disadvantage after being in a wreck involving a tractor trailer or other large commercial vehicle. While the injured victim lies in a hospital bed, investigators for the trucking company are busy collecting evidence, downloading data from the truck’s black box, taking photographs and interviewing witnesses. An accident reconstruction expert may already have been hired to try to develop the facts the way they want them to be. After a wreck, the last thing the victim’s family is thinking about is collecting and preserving evidence for use in a lawsuit. But that is exactly what the trucking company will be doing.

Having a skilled, experienced trucking attorney at your side during this difficult time can make all the difference for you and your family.

As your trucking attorneys, The Hamilton Firm, will:

  • Interview witnesses and/or passengers
  • Interview law enforcement from the scene
  • Interview first responders
  • Inspect and photograph the vehicles
  • Inspect and photograph the scene
  • Obtain any available data downloads from the client’s vehicle
  • Examine the truck or commercial vehicle
  • Attempt to interview the truck driver
  • Will demand access to the data downloads from the truck or commercial vehicle
  • Will demand preservation of all relevant records, documents, logs, and other evidence in the possession of the trucking company
  • Obtain the crash report, inspection reports, ambulance trip report, and 911 calls
  • Work with our own accident reconstruction expert, and such other experts as the case may require

An experienced truck wreck attorney will investigate a number of factors, besides who violated the rules of the road, that may have contributed to the crash, including whether the driver had consumed drugs or alcohol, how much time the driver was on the road since his or her last break, data recorded by the truck’s black box or event data recorder (EDR), including the truck’s speed when brakes were applied, velocity changes, sudden braking, changes in RPMs and gear shifts, whether cruise control was on or off, and will demand data from their GPS systems that can show the truck’s precise location and speed.

Speeding Truck? Because trucks maneuver, accelerate and decelerate differently than cars, they are more difficult to control, especially at high speeds. This makes speeding behind the wheel of a truck an inexcusably careless act.

Changing Lanes? A truck’s size can often make changing lanes more challenging. Almost of us have had a tractor trailer encroach into our lane of travel. Irresponsible truck drivers often force other drivers to brake or take evasive action to avoid a collision. What if they run over you or run you off the road?

Failure to Check Blind Spots? The large number of blind spots a truck has may cause the driver to overlook you when injuries and damages. Trucks have numerous mirrors for these blind spots but if the driver fails to check even just one, it could result in a dangerous lane change and a collision.

Following Too Closely (or tailgating)? Tractor trailers and other large commercial vehicles should stay well back from cars and other vehicles ahead of them on the road. They take longer to stop and the consequences of crashing into the rear of a passenger vehicle can be catastrophic.

Obstructing or Blocking the Roadway? When a tractor trailer pulls out of a side street or driveway the trailer often blocks the lane being crossed for 10 seconds or more. At night, such a maneuver can be extremely dangerous, as the truck headlights blind on-coming drivers, who may not see the trailer blocking their lane.

It is not uncommon for trucking companies to try and avoid liability. They may claim the driver was not working for their company or that they don’t actually own the equipment, meaning they would not be responsible for the operation, maintenance, repairs or regular inspections of the truck or trailer. Navigating the obstacle course requires knowledge, skill, experience and persistence.

Common signs of negligence on the part of a trucking company:

  • Overlooking safety regulations by allowing trucks with faulty or defective lights, brakes or other parts to operate on the highways
  • Pressuring drivers to make unrealistic time deadlines and deliveries
  • Inadequate driver screening and training
  • Utilizing drivers who are poorly trained or not equipped to safely handle an oversized vehicle
  • Allowing trucks to be loaded improperly

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations (FMCSR) require that every trucking company maintain a driver qualification file (DFQ) on all drivers. That information can also be a critical part of thorough truck accident investigation.

What must be included in the DQF?

  • Driving records, including accident history for both the driver and truck
  • The driver’s employment history
  • Road test results
  • Drug and alcohol test results
  • Records for service hours
  • Training certificates
  • Vehicle maintenance records
  • Copies of licenses
  • Records of annual reviews
  • Any medical certifications
  • Employment applications
  • Personnel records

An experienced truck wreck attorney should obtain the DQF for your case as part of routine discovery immediately upon filing suit. Trucking companies are often reluctant to hand over DFQ files, especially if the file contains information that could be a problem for the trucking company or their driver. But the courts will generally force the trucking company to hand over all such files and records to ensure compliance with Federal law.

Commercial vehicle drivers must:

  • Possess a valid commercial driver’s license
  • Have passed a recognized driving test Be at least 21 years old Read and speak English Be able to safely operate a vehicle Be able to properly load and secure cargo Be in good health Possess a valid medical certificate

Experts

Willingness and the ability to hire outstanding experts to assist with the case in fields such as accident reconstruction, human factors and biomechanical engineering is essential in pursuing a serious injury or death case involving commercial vehicles. Does the lawyer or law firm you are about to retain have the financial resources to hire necessary experts? Don’t hesitate to ask. Serious cases involving large trucks almost always require an accident reconstruction expert, and often require other experts, all of which cost money. Typically, The Hamilton Firm will advance all the expenses necessary to fully investigate, develop and prove the case, if the law firm accepts representation.

Who Else Might Be Liable in a Truck Wreck Case?

When a very bad crash occurs, causing severe injury or death, no stone should be left unturned while seeking to determine who was at fault. Trucking companies are only required to have a minimum of $750,000 in liability coverage. Large companies such as U.S. Xpress or Covenant Transport often have layers of coverage far above the minimum limits. But there are many smaller “mom & pop” type operations that carry only the minimum coverage. $750,000 doesn’t go very far when extensive treatment and rehabilitation is required, when a person is facing a lifetime loss of earnings and disability, or when there are multiple victims of from the same wreck, and $750,000 is never enough to compensate a spouse or family of the loss of a loved one.

Additional parties that should be investigated and could be held responsible might include: the broker that arranged for the load to be shipped on that truck, the person or company that loaded the cargo, the owner of the truck, the owner of the trailer, the person or company that maintained the truck, the person or company that leased the truck, or the manufacturer of the truck, the trailer, the tires or other components. Other vehicles and drivers may be at fault, and other factors could have contributed, such as road construction, inadequate warning signs, or highway defects. Everything should be considered and investigated to be sure all available sources of compensation are tapped.

Bisected by the Tennessee River, bordering Georgia and Alabama, at the junction of three interstate highways, including the heavily traveled I-75 corridor, Chattanooga, Tennessee is both a historic railroad town and a modern transportation hub.  I-24 begins in Chattanooga running northwest toward Nashville, TN.  I-59 also begins just outside Chattanooga and runs south toward Birmingham, AL.  To the south, toward Atlanta along I-75, lies Dalton, GA a world center for the carpet and flooring industry. Chattanooga’s diversified economy includes the Volkswagen North American assembly plant, as well as insurance giants Blue Cross Blue Shield and Unum.  Chattanooga is also a major tourist destination attracting millions of visitors each year.  As a result, The Hamilton Firm LLC focus much of its work on representation of persons injured in trucking and transportation related cases as well as serious workplace injury cases.

Chattanooga is the headquarters for two of the nation’s major trucking companies, U.S. Xpress and Covenant Transport. And as crossroads city, Chattanooga ranks first in the nation among all metropolitan cities for the volume of freight moving through the city by truck (according to a recent freight study by Cambridge Systematics and reported in the Chattanooga Times Free Press). Problem areas include the interchanges as well as the entire section of I-24 from I-59 to I-75, and I-75 north to Cleveland, TN. Tractor trailers, while essential to a thriving economy, also present great risks to the traveling public if not operated safely by well trained professional drivers with well maintained equipment.

Chattanooga is also a rail hub for Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads.  Travel, transport and commerce by water, rail and road are essential to our lives and economy, but all the economic activity also brings traffic and congestion, which can lead to more wrecks, accidents and injuries.  This can be a volatile mix when combined with the high freight volume on tractor trailers traveling through or originating in the area.