Reports, Statements, and Records | Key Pieces of Truck Accident Evidence
Accident investigation is the process of collecting evidence from and about the scene of a motor vehicle collision. This can vary in scope and detail from very informal efforts like the drivers involved in a minor accident taking photos of their vehicle positions and damage, to formal reporting by a law enforcement officer in the typical traffic collision report, to highly detailed and in-depth reports by specialized investigation teams in major accidents. The amount of time and effort put into investigating an accident is usually in proportion to the severity of the accident – since accidents involving large commercial vehicles tend to result in greater amounts of damage, injury, and fatality, truck accident evidence tends to be much more detailed and in greater volume than evidence from smaller accidents. Collecting, analyzing, and using truck accident evidence is crucial for personal injury lawyers who are seeking compensation for their injured clients.
Reports By Investigators
Reports of most vehicle accidents — especially those involving injuries or major property damage — are produced by law enforcement officers and are key elements for investigating, understanding, and reconstructing how the accident happened. While they are often not technically admissible evidence themselves, the reports provide an early “roadmap” to the incident by providing detailed information about the people and vehicles involved in the accident, names and contact information for witnesses who have volunteered these details, and typically recording brief statements from drivers and witnesses based upon interviews with the reporting officers. Standard traffic collision reports are usually prepared by local law enforcement. For example, in California, they are usually prepared by local police officers for accidents occurring within incorporated city limits or by C.H.P. officers for accidents outside city limits.
When major accidents occur, however — such as fatality accidents or the kind of multiple-vehicle accidents more likely to occur with large trucks — specialist investigators are likely to be dispatched to the scene. Some large city police departments will have their own special accident investigation teams, while often major highway accidents in California are investigated by the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT). These reports are typically far more detailed, both in the amount of evidence collected and the effort put into understanding how the accident occurred.
Standard traffic collision reports usually take a week or two to be completed, while major accident reports can take several weeks or even months to finish. Both types of reports will typically include conclusions from the investigating officers as to how and why the accident occurred and who was responsible. For the purposes of personal injury claims and litigation, it’s important to realize that the investigating officers don’t always get it right — especially for the “standard” collision report where the investigating officer may have limited professional accident reconstruction training and where they may have only a brief time to investigate the accident scene and interview the involved parties.
Records From the Truck Driver and Trucking Company
Commercial truck drivers and their employers are required by federal and state regulatory agencies to keep and maintain certain types of records and reports related to the drivers and the vehicles they are operating. Some of these records are kept with the vehicle and may be available to investigators at the accident site, while others may be secured later through the legal processes of requiring evidence preservation and “discovery” of that evidence during litigation. These reports and records include:
- Short-term Record of Duty Status/Driver’s Log — Drivers are required to maintain with themselves a record of their work and off-work time over the prior seven days of work. These may be in either paper or electronic format or both. If the log is in electronic format, the employer will often have a current or real-time copy of the data.
- Long-term Record of Duty Status/Driver’s Log — Drivers are required to submit records of the work and off-work time to their employers, who are required to maintain these records over a longer period of time.
- Pre-Trip and Post-Trip Inspection Reports — Drivers must inspect their vehicles before and after each trip and must submit reports of any defects that are found to the trucking company.
Reports By and From Third Parties
Many other people and agencies may be present at the scene of a major truck accident and may produce formal or informal reports on what they witnessed and found there. These types of reports can include:
- Witness Statements — Police traffic collision reports will record the names and contact details of witnesses at the truck accident scene, as well as brief statements from the witnesses. Following up with these witnesses later to verify and expand upon their initial statements is often a crucial step for personal injury lawyers and their investigators to understand how and why accidents happen.
- Fire Department Reports — Accidents involving vehicle fires or cargo spills will often have fire department personnel dispatched to the scene, including HAZMAT teams if toxic or dangerous materials were spilled. These personnel will usually prepare reports of their on-scene activities and what they found there.
- Paramedic and Ambulance Reports — These reports will usually focus on the observed injuries and initial treatment provided to accident victims, but they will also often include the paramedic or ambulance attendant’s observations from the accident scene.
- News Media — Truck accidents, especially major ones, often attract news media attention due to road closures, spills, etc. They may collect and present significant amounts of information in printed format or televised format, such as on-scene reports and overhead helicopter views.
- Tow Truck Reports — Tow truck operators will often produce reports on vehicles that have been collected, towed, and removed from accident sites. They often are the first people to observe crucial evidence of vehicle defects or damage.
Records, reports, and statements from third parties can provide important truck accident evidence — skilled truck accident attorneys will be aware of this and will be careful and diligent in tracking down each of these types of evidence that may be available for a particular incident.
View this news helicopter video that shows how a news media report can provide crucial overhead views to document vehicle positions and other on-site evidence immediately after a major truck accident:
Truck Accident Lawyer in California
Hello, my name’s Ed Smith, and I am a California Truck Accident Lawyer. Personal injury attorneys with experience handling numerous truck accident cases understand that these matters are much more dependent upon reports and records related to the accident and vehicles than most motor vehicle injury cases are. The experienced attorney will realize how important it is to promptly collect and review all the available reports — from everyone who was on scene — in order to understand and prove how the truck accident happened. If you or a family member has sustained a serious injury due to negligence of a truck driver or other commercial vehicle operator, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.
Image by Richard Mcall from Pixabay
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