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10-34: Rapid Response Truck Accident
Investigation and Evidence Protection

March 5, 2014
Christopher J. Daniels , Timothy M. McKissock , Jay T. Thompson

In the 1977 classic flim Smokey and the Bandit, Sheriff Buford T. Justice witnessed a speeding trucker shear the open driver's door off his patrol car. In a slow, southern drawl, he immediately admonished his son to "put the evidence in the car, Junior." The evidence, of course, was the door that lay in the middle of the road, detached after the collision. Justice planned to use it as evidence to put the "sombitch" trucker away until he was gray. 

So went Justice's official evidence collection and preservation from a truck collision on the silver screen. Today, our response to a commercial vehicle accident is a little different. Each collision involving a commercial vehicle is unique and complex due to the range of truck sizes, weights, and configurations. Updated technology allows many vehicles to be tracked and events to be recreated down to the second. Therefore, successfully defending a commercial trucking client after an accident presents many unique challenges. 

In commercial vehicle accidents, especially those involving serious injury or death, litigation is often foreseeable from the outset, and proper response to the accident is essential. You may get only one opportunity to collect critical evidence from the scene and the vehicles before it is compromised. This article provides an overview of some best practices to make the most of that opportunity. Responding quickly, hiring an appropriate reconstructionist, collecting and preserving Event Data Recorder and Electronic Control Module data, and making the best use of available accident reports are all key steps that must be executed properly. Additionally, awareness of the potential for evidence spoliation resulting from improper handling or destructive testing procedures is essential. Maintaining contact with opposing counsel and witnesses, such as drivers who may leave the company, is also a must. Ultimately, a thorough knowledge of proper post-accident investigation procedures and data collection techniques may allow the careful practitioner to put the brakes on an otherwise costly commercial trucking lawsuit.

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