Evidence in the Aftermath of a Semi-Truck Accident
Big trucks are ubiquitous on our roads. Over 15.5 million of them transport the vast majority of goods that are moved throughout the U.S. and on the North American continent. Their large presence throughout the country and state of Florida makes it not uncommon for them to get into crashes with passenger cars, often resulting in devastating consequences for the occupants of the car.
A serious truck accident injury can lead to significant lifelong pain, severe financial burden, and life changes that affect nearly every aspect of their lives. Bills can overwhelm victims and make them feel like they cannot cope and will never get out from under them.
Florida Semi-Truck Accident Claims
Even with insurance, victims can be left with a mountain of bills they cannot pay, and victims without health coverage can face financial catastrophe. You only have to know that medical debt is the number one reason people file bankruptcy in the United States to understand the financial toll the cost of diagnosing, treating, and recovering from injury and illness can take on a person.
Florida law, however, allows victims to seek monetary compensation for damages they suffered at the hands of an at-fault truck driver through a personal injury lawsuit. The amount and type of damages vary depending on the facts of a particular case. Thus, an injured person should contact an experienced Florida truck accident attorney as soon as possible so that the attorney can begin to evaluate the victim’s claims and prepare the lawsuit.
Semi-Truck Accident Claim Statute of Limitations
To have the court consider your suit, you must file it within four years of the date of the accident that caused the injuries. This is known as the statute of limitations. Although you may feel like that’s a long time, don’t be complacent and let it slip by. These kinds of lawsuits are complex and take time to properly prepare and file, so the sooner you can retain the services of a competent attorney, the more time she will have to prepare and file your suit and the sooner you will receive the monetary compensation to which you are entitled.
If you do not file your truck accident lawsuit within the statute of limitations, it simply will not be considered by the court—it will be dismissed in its entirety and you will be left with no legal means of recovery for your injuries.
How to Preserve Truck Accident Evidence
If you plan to seek compensation from the driver who injured you through a personal injury lawsuit, certain things can constitute evidence that you must preserve. Even if you choose to settle your case out of court and not take it to trial, this critical information will play an important role in getting you an adequate settlement offer.
If your case does go to trial, your attorney will have to comply with the rules of evidence in presenting your case to the jury, and you must present evidence strong enough to convince a jury that you were in fact injured and that the driver you sued was responsible for those injuries to award you an adequate damages amount.
As such, is of paramount importance that you do certain things, both at the scene and in the coming days, weeks, and months. While if you are seriously injured you cannot do some of these right away, you need to do them as soon as you can or, preferably, have someone you trust—like your truck accident lawyer—do them on your behalf.
At the Scene of a Truck Accident
Depending on the extent of your injuries, you may or may not do much at the scene itself. Do as much as you can.
- Call 911 – You are someone involved in the accident should always notify police and emergency personnel. In addition to sending medical first responders to treat injuries on the scene and provide transportation to a treatment facility if necessary, law enforcement officers will arrive on the scene and begin to document what they observe. They will take photos, interview witnesses, and take down contact information of all the involved parties. They then have an obligation to write a report about the accident. Don’t skip this step—this report can prove valuable as you proceed with your case.
- Seek medical treatment – Even if you do not feel like you’ve been badly injured, get checked out by the medical personnel who arrive on the scene. They may detect an injury you are not aware of and at a bare minimum, it will provide a baseline for symptoms that may develop in the future.
- Get contact information from others – Although the officers who show up to your accident will collect contact information from the other driver and any witnesses, if you can do so, you should do the same. This saves you from having to wait to get a copy of the officer’s report before working on your case.
- Exchange insurance information with the other driver – Insurance companies will be involved in your suit. Make sure you get the other driver’s carrier information.
While you are not going to be in a position to research, locate, and hire an attorney at the scene of the accident, do so as soon as possible afterward. Wondering if you really need an attorney to help pursue your legal remedies? Wonder no more. The answer is always, always a resounding yes.
These cases are complicated and involve many parties and moving parts. And they are never one-man shows. A team of professionals including attorneys, an investigator, paralegals and legal secretaries, and medical and other specialized experts all have a role to play in ensuring the best outcome for your case.
Truck Accident Attorneys are Essential for Settlement Negotiation
Insurance companies have teams of attorneys who do nothing more than work all day long trying to figure out how to pay you the least amount of money possible because their employers have a vested financial interest in not paying you a dime more than they absolutely have to. They know the law. They know tricks. And they are not beyond bullying victims into accepting a woefully inadequate settlement offer.
Don’t go in on your own and unprepared. A competent Florida truck accident attorney will have a deep understanding of the law, know how to push back during negotiations, and will have an idea about whether or not you’re receiving a good offer. You need someone fighting for your legal rights while you fight to recover—someone who has fought the fight and knows the rules of the game.
Request a Copy of the Police Report
Once the police officer who arrived at the scene of your accident has written his or her report, you are entitled to a copy of it. Make sure you request it. This process can sometimes take a while (hence the need to take photos and collect information at the scene if you or someone you’re with can), but it provides an official account of what the scene looked like, witness contact information, any citations issued, witness statements, and the officer’s notes and perceptions about what happened. Always, always request and then make sure you receive a copy of this report.
Send Spoliation Letters
You will do this via your attorney, but a step of utmost importance is to send a letter formally notifying the other party or parties (defendants) that they must hold or prohibit the destruction of certain items that may be used as evidence in a legal claim against them. These letters prohibit other parties from destroying evidence that may prove important to your case, even past any legal time limit on recording keeping.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FCMSA), a division of the Federal Department of Transportation, requires that trucking companies keep their drivers’ duty records only for six months. Unless in receipt of a spoliation letter, the carrier is legally permitted to destroy them any time after that.
Spoliation Letters Preserve Valuable Information
This short time frame is another great example of why you need to bring an attorney on board for your case as soon as absolutely possible. It is devastating to find out that records that could have strengthened your case have been legally destroyed and that there’s no way of ever getting them back, forcing you to attempt to recreate them by some other means or put together the information from witnesses or other indirect means—a significantly more challenging task.
In addition to identifying you as the person bringing the suit, the truck license plate number, date/time/location of the accident, and how you want the evidence preserved, a spoliation letter should contain a specific request for certain information, including:
- Maintenance and repair records
- The physical truck
- GPS data
- Electronic on-board recorder (similar to an airplane’s “black box”) data
- Driver information such as their driving records, medical exam certificates, driving logs, credentials, employment history, drug test results, and training records
- The company’s out of service orders, safety records, policies and procedures, and employee handbooks
Keep Meticulous Records to Track Truck Accident Damages
Keep detailed documentation of all of the costs you incur to diagnose, treat, and recover from your injuries. A large chunk of any damage award for a plaintiff is economic damages—those that are intended to compensate for actual monetary losses. But to recoup these costs, you must prove you actually incurred them. This means keeping track of it all and making sure you save all the bills and receipts you receive. When it doubt, keep it, even if it only seems tangentially related to your case. More is always better. Your attorney can help you sort out what to seek in your case.
Common types of economic damages are included below:
- Medical costs – From your ambulance ride to physical therapy, you will incur costs. The cost of your initial stay (surgeries, X-rays, lab and other diagnostic testing, doctors’ fees), follow up appointments, subsequent surgeries, therapy (physical, occupations, speech, or mental health), medical equipment such as wheelchairs or canes, prescriptions, and rehabilitation should all be documented.
- Wages – You may have had to miss work immediately following your accident due to a stay in the hospital. Then there are the follow-up appointments you will have to take off for after you go back to work. Or you may not even return to work or must take different, lower-paying work due to limitations imposed by your truck accident injuries. Some victims lose out on tips, commissions, and retirement contributions because of work accidents. While the wages you’ve currently lost are simpler to calculate, even the wages you will lose in the future can be computed and compensated in a personal injury suit.
- Services – If you cannot perform certain services for yourself that you once were, you may receive compensation for having to pay someone else to do them. This may include things like lawn and home maintenance, driving, housekeeping and laundry, or grocery shopping and cooking.
- Modifications to home or car – Victims who lose limbs or digits or become paralyzed are often forced to make modifications to their homes or vehicles to live in or operate them. These costs may be recoverable.
While perpetually opening bills can provoke fear and intimidation, you need to do so to move forward. Open all that mail and store the bills in a safe, organized location. Creating a spreadsheet may be the best way to track your lost wages and other costs such as services or modifications. Be as detailed and meticulous as you can. At no point in time will you sit back and say, “Man, I wish I knew less about how much this injury cost me.”
Truck accident injuries can result in severe and life-changing injuries, but a competent truck accident attorney can help you preserve the evidence required to take on the person who injured you and perhaps the company that hired him or her. If you have questions regarding a potential truck accident claim, contact a truck accident attorney you trust as soon as possible.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765