I will be presenting a paper on prosecuting truck wreck cases for the Texas Trial Lawyers Association in October and for the State Bar of Texas again in November. As I was sitting down at my desk going over my outline, I saw a news story of another serious 18-Wheeler wreck which had just happened outside of Crockett Texas.
Based on information available from news stories, TX Dot, and law enforcement, the accident appears to have been caused by the negligence of the truck driver who crashed, obviously at a very high rate of speed, into a line of cars that had stopped for a construction site. My heart goes out to the victims and their families.
Unfortunately, this tragic accident raises many of the complex and critical issues of investigation and evidence preservation that are common in commercial motor vehicle accidents. The accident will be investigated by the accident reconstruction team of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The troopers investigating the scene should take detailed measurements and document the scene through the use of scaled diagrams and photographic evidence. This will be helpful in determining the cause of the accident. However, much more is needed to protect the rights of the victims in the case.
In this case, driver inattention and/or impairment are almost certainly a major cause of the accident. This raises the question, why would a professional truck driver be so distracted that he would drive full speed into a line of parked cars. In my experience, this type accident usually occurs because of driver impairment (drugs and/or alcohol) or extreme fatigue (often caused by driving ‘on duty time’ in excess of the maximum legal limit). In this type of accident, it can be critical to move quickly in order to preserve all evidence of the underlying cause of the accident.
FMCSA regulations require the trucking company to immediately perform a drug alcohol test of its driver in an accident involving a fatality, or in any injury accident where the driver was also given a citation. Unfortunately, many trucking companies neglect, or refuse, to drug test their drivers after an accident of this type unless an attorney is immediately retained and files pleadings with the court seeking to force the required tests. Likewise, most modern commercial trucks have on board computers referred to as ECM (electronic control modules) which can contain critical information regarding the operation of the truck such as speed, RPM, braking forces, and even the number of hours the engine was in operation prior to the accident. ECM data will be lost if the truck is not secured, and the ECM downloaded prior to the truck being put back into service or sold for parts.
Finally, the driver’s “hours of service” logs where he or she is required to record all driving hours, on duty hours, and off duty time may contain critical evidence of the underlying cause of the accident. Despite the fact that federal and state law requires all driver logs to be kept for 180 days, these logs have a tendency to ‘disappear’ if they contain evidence of a driver working or driving in excess of the legal limit. A law firm experienced in prosecuting 18-wheeler cases will move immediately to secure and preserve all relevant evidence. Hopefully, the victims in the Crockett accident case will be represented by competent legal counsel to protect their rights.
Mike Love & Associates, LLC
202 E. Lufkin Ave. Suite 202
Lufkin Texas 75901
Attorneys representing injured victims in 18-Wheeler accidents seeking additional information to assist them in pursuing claims on behalf of their clients in 18-Wheeler or other commercial motor vehicle accidents can contact the law firm of Mike Love & Associates, LLC to request free copies of Mr. Love’s CLE papers on the subject of Trucking Litigation including: Trucking Litigation: New Strategies From Behind Enemy Lines, and Trucking Cases: An Inside Perspective Requests can be emailed to welledge@TexasLawOffice.com or call (936) 632-2000.