Injury Law

Electronic Evidence In Large Truck Crash Cases

Truck Crash

To obtain compensation, the victim/plaintiff must prove negligence in truck crash cases, and that requires solid evidence. To obtain compensation, the victim/plaintiff must prove negligence in truck crash cases, and that requires solid evidence.

A successful case usually depends on both physical evidence, like photographs, and testimonial evidence from witnesses. Most physical evidence is outstanding for proving the extent of the crash and the damages that the victim suffered, but does little to support a theory of liability. Testimonial evidence is often on the other end of the scale, because although these witnesses may be very compelling, they are subject to vigorous cross-examination by insurance company lawyers.

Fortunately, truck crashes often involve electronic evidence that, in many ways, combines the best of both worlds.

Available Evidence

Since the Department of Transportation’s rule takes effect in December 2017, most large trucks are already equipped with electronic logging devices. Until now, truckers have manually recorded their hours of service in individual log books that are easy to manipulate. But an ELD is connected to the engine and automatically records on-duty and off-duty status based on vehicle motion.

Shipping companies and truck drivers fought the ELD rule in court for many years, ostensibly because of cost. But since compliance costs as little as $165, the real reason for the opposition may have been concern over liability lawsuits. Two-thirds of long haul drivers admitted that they felt dangerously fatigued on at least half their trips.
Most shipping companies compensate drivers by the trip, so the more they drive, the more they earn.

Another electronic gadget, the event data recorder, is useful in almost all crashes, and not just ones related to drowsy driving. Almost all large trucks, and almost all noncommercial vehicles as well, have an EDR, which is similar to a commercial airplane’s black box.

In the 1990s, first-generation event data recorders had only very limited capabilities. Now, depending on the EDR model, these devices capture and record a vast array of operational information like:

  • Steering angle,
  • Velocity,
  • Brake application,
  • Engine RPM, and
  • Airbag deployment.

Most devices capture this information on a rolling basis, and store it for about seven seconds.

Accessing and Presenting Electronic Evidence

New York has an electronic data privacy law which prohibits non-owners from accessing such information except in limited situations, such as a mechanic who needs the data for diagnostic or repair purposes. Therefore, a personal injury attorney needs to obtain a court order to examine this vital evidence.

For a court order to be effective, the evidence must obviously be available. This is not always the case, because insurance companies usually destroy totaled vehicles within a few days after a truck accident. Spoliation letters prevent such inadvertent evidence destruction. An attorney sends this letter to an insurance company, shipping company, or whatever entity has control of the vehicle, directing such entity to preserve all potential evidence in the case, and that includes the ELD and/or EDR.

At trial, the information on these devices is admissible under the business records exception to the hearsay rule. So, rather than calling a person to testify about how long the driver had been on the road or how fast the driver was going, the jury can simply obtain this information from the device’s memory banks. The insurance company lawyer cannot challenge this evidence except on highly technical grounds that hardly ever succeed.

Stronger evidence usually means a stronger case, which often results in more compensation. This compensation includes money for economic damages, such as lost wages, and non-economic damages, such as emotional distress. Punitive damages are available as well, in many extreme cases.

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Scott Aadal is a freelance writer who likes to discuss current events, and contributes articles to promote legal awareness. You can follow him on LinkedIn.

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