HFM’s Transportation Practice Group boasts a 24/7 rapid response team for commercial transportation companies. Our attorneys are available 24/7 to respond to minor and serious motor vehicle accidents and immediately manage the on-scene post-accident investigation. The minutes and hours following a serious transportation accident are crucial to preserve evidence and to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws. Preservation of evidence at an accident scene can prove to be the difference between a solid defense or an expensive settlement trial.
Oftentimes, an accident occurs in a location where an attorney cannot immediately be present. When this happens, it is important that the driver of the vehicle is adequately trained to handle the situation until the attorney arrives.
Below are five important guidelines for commercial drivers to follow after they’ve been involved in an accident:
- Don’t turn one accident into two. After a traffic collision, if any part of the driver’s tractor trailer is stopped on a highway or shoulder, the driver should activate his hazard warning system immediately. As soon as practicable, but no later than 10 minutes after stopping, the driver must set out warning devices (such as triangles or flares) in three locations behind his or her vehicle as specified in 49 C.F.R. 392.2. Do not move the truck unless instructed to do so by the police.
- Remember manners. A driver may be asked to make tough decisions after an accident occurs. He or she will likely be confronted by a police officer who will be asking the driver questions implicating fault. Be courteous and polite with the officer. It is also appropriate, however, to politely inform an officer that you will wait to answer the officer’s questions until after you speak with an attorney. Give the attorney’s name and phone number to the officer. Let the officer know when the attorney is expected to arrive. Encourage the officer to call and speak to the attorney. The importance of being polite and cooperative cannot be overstated.
- Communicate verbally. As a driver, you must be careful what you put in writing after an accident. You will undoubtedly contact your employer to inform them the accident happened. Remember, anything you put into writing, whether it be a social media post, a text message, or an email, may become discoverable evidence if litigation follows. It does not matter that your social media profile is set to “private,” or the post is “temporary” (e.g., Snapchat). Written communications by a driver will almost always be ordered produced during litigation. Drivers should communicate about the accident verbally over the phone.
- Don’t move the truck (unless told to). Do not move the truck, or anything else, after being involved in an accident unless instructed to do so by the police. Simply turning the ignition could destroy evidence relevant to the accident. Your modern trucks are equipped with safety devices that store evidence in multiple different ways, and even the direction of your tires following a collision might be relevant to engineers who specialize in reconstructing traffic accidents. In a major collision, your employer or attorney may hire an accident reconstructionist to go to the scene of an incident and preserve evidence to use in your defense.
- Take Photos and more photos. Drivers are now equipped with cell phones that allow them to take photos while at the accident scene. When safe to do so, take pictures of each vehicle involved in the accident—from all sides. This will document the damage to each vehicle and eliminate any guesswork as to what portions of each vehicle sustained damage. Photograph other evidence that may be at the scene, such as debris, skid marks, and even the folks involved in the accident. If the other party to the accident can exit his/her vehicle and freely move around, snap a photo. This may help disprove injury claims that might be brought later. However, avoid taking photographs of seriously injured individuals.
These five important guidelines are not exhaustive, but are important to follow for a commercial driver involved in a serious accident. For more information, or if you would like to speak to an HFM transportation attorney, please call 619-236-1551. If you have an accident after business hours, please call our 24/7 Rapid Response Hotline staffed by a live operator at 1-866-549-9530.