Who Has Your Back?

February 1, 2010

I opened my email this morning and was bombarded with spam from lawyers wanting to sue truck drivers and truck companies involved in accidents.  I know this is nothing new, but these guys are getting very aggressive with their marketing and searches for accidents involving trucks.  It took Google 0.26 seconds to find 1,590,000 lawyers advertising to sue truck drivers and truck companies when I searched for “attorney for truck accidents”.  That’s right; One Million, Five Hundred Ninety Thousand lawyers just waiting for you to get involved in an accident on that specific search alone.

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Who has your back when you get involved in an accident?  First of all your company has your back as they seek the cause of the accident, and it just may not be your fault.  The safety department at most carriers is open 24/7 for their drivers or the safety director is on call.  Either way, one of the first things a driver involved in an accident need to do is call his company and report the accident.  Time is of the essence here, meaning the sooner you call the company the sooner they can determine how to handle the accident.

Some accidents need investigation as soon as possible, such as sever bodily injury or death accidents.  You need to make sure your insurance carrier, company or attorney is aware of and has control of the evidence from the accident you are able to gather. The cops will gather their own evidence and make it available to both parties.  Are you aware of any bad information pertaining to you about the accident?  The insurance carrier, company or attorney also need to know that, because the plaintiff’s attorney will sure find that information and use it against you.  As an attorney myself, let me tell you, there is nothing worse than finding something bad out during trial when it is a surprise to you.  Attorneys can work around bad information if they have to, but only if they have time to prepare for it.

Document everything you can with photos, however do not take pictures of any dead bodies.  Take photos of all the car tags of the cars that stop for the accident if you can, get pictures of every side of your vehicle and the other vehicle, try to do a panoramic view of the accident location (stand in one spot and take pictures as you turn in a circle.  Try to take 8 pictures in the circle as you turn to get a good panoramic view.

Make sure you and your company complies with all the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulatory and post-accident requirements.  Talk to your insurance carrier or your company about the difference between an apology and sympathy to the others involved in the accident as well as how to assist the police with their investigation without saying something that could be taken out of context and used against you later.  Never say, “I’m sorry” or “It was my fault”, you may well live to regret that statement.

Second is your own lawyer, he has your back and will defend you in court.  You lawyer’s job is to defend you, and this could also be the truck carrier’s insurance lawyer, against the charges against you.  Keep in mind anyone involved in an accident may face two different court systems.  The criminal court system, this the traffic ticket you receive from the officer which may include just about anything they think they can prove in court.  For instance, your speed, the highway worthiness of the vehicle, if you were fatigued, over hours, out of your lane, and on and on and on. The criminal system can access fines and jail time depending upon the charges you are convicted of.

The civil court system, this is where the other party, their family or their estate if they were killed may sue you for money damages.  The plaintiff lawyer almost always works on a contingency fee where the lawyer pays for everything and splits the winnings with the injured party.  They try to sue everyone they can find with a connection to the accident, such as the driver, carrier, shipper, manufacture of the truck, tires, brakes, or just about any piece of equipment on the truck.  By suing everyone they can find, they can make the amount of money available larger to themselves and their clients.

But the most important person for you to count on to have your back is you.  You need to make sure you cover your own back by following the law and DOT regulations.  Ask for and take any safety education course your company provides.  Defend yourself on every traffic ticket you receive, because the plaintiff attorney will certainly use your convictions against you in court. Don’t fudge on your logs, drive the speed limit, keep the vehicle equipment safe, ensure your loads are secure and drive like the professional you are.

Jim C. Klepper is President of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation’s commercial drivers.  Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the forty-eight (48) states on both moving and non-moving violations. Jim is also president of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at greatly discounted rates.  Jim, a former prosecutor, is also a registered pharmacist, with considerable experience in alcohol and drug related cases.  He is a lawyer that has focused on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking and life over-the-road and has his Commercial Drivers License.

800-333-DRIVE (3748) or www.interstatetrucker.com and www.driverslegalplan.com