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Tractor-Trailer Wrecks and the Importance of Retaining an Attorney Early

By: William J. Hunter and George T. Major, Jr.

Wrecks involving tractor-trailers are often, and unfortunately, catastrophic or even deadly for those not occupying the "big-rig." While the vast majority of truckers are law-abiding, safe drivers who are on the road to earn an honest living, there are others who skirt or ignore the laws and regulations in place to protect everyone on the road. Regardless of whether a wreck occurs as a result of an honest error in judgment or as a result of a pattern of bad behavior, the trucking companies and their insurers are keenly aware of the potentially catastrophic nature of tractor-trailer wrecks, and they have a system in place to protect their interests when a wreck occurs.

Our experience in litigating tractor-trailer wrecks has given us insight into the way that a truck driver, a trucking company, and a trucking insurer protect themselves starting at the moment a wreck occurs. Many trucking companies have policies in place that prohibit their drivers from giving a statement at the scene as to how the wreck occurred. Trucking companies have these policies in place because they know that the driver's statement may be used against them later in a legal proceeding.

Many trucking companies have what are known as "quick response teams" or "fast teams" ready and within a few hours' drive of any location on that company's routes. A quick response team often consists of an insurance adjustor, an accident investigator, and an attorney. When an accident occurs, the quick response team is called in while the vehicles are still on the scene and, in many cases, witnesses to the wreck are still in the area. Because an attorney is involved, much of the information gathered may be subject to an attorney-client privilege between the attorney and the driver, trucking company, and trucking insurer. This means that the people injured by the tractor-trailer will often not have equal access to the information gathered in the immediate aftermath of the wreck.

Trucking companies do all of these things to gain an advantage in any lawsuit that may be filed against it and its driver. The actions taken by a trucking company in the immediate aftermath of a wreck are rarely for the benefit of the people injured by the tractor-trailer. As time passes, memories of witnesses and people involved become blurred as to details, especially when a traumatic event is either experienced or witnessed. Witnesses, particularly those traveling on interstates, may become increasingly difficult to locate as time passes. The truck driver is afforded the ability to speak to an attorney prior to giving a statement to law enforcement.

Because the people who are injured by a tractor-trailer most often do not have an insurance adjustor, accident investigator, and lawyer on standby to rush to a wreck scene, it is important that they retain a competent lawyer as soon as possible after the wreck. The earlier a lawyer is retained, the better, as that lawyer can send an investigator to the scene while the paint markings and other evidence of the wreck is fresh. The lawyer can send an investigator to inspect the vehicles involved before they are repaired, salvaged, or destroyed to obtain important information regarding how the wreck occurred. A crucial piece of information from the vehicles is the information contained on the "black box" or other data recorders. The lawyer can put the truck driver, the trucking company, and the trucking insurer on notice to preserve the contents of the truck's cab and important documents such as the truck driver's personnel file, driver's daily logs and trip receipts, and maintenance and inspection records for the tractor and trailer. All of these things help minimize the advantages that the trucking companies seek to secure through their post-wreck actions.

Truck drivers, trucking companies, and trucking insurers usually enlist the assistance of an attorney as soon as possible after a wreck has occurred. They do this for good reason and to protect their interests. The people injured by a tractor-trailer wreck should likewise protect their interests and retain a competent lawyer experienced in tractor-trailer litigation as soon as possible after the wreck.

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