Prompt investigation is important in every kind of accident, but is especially critical in obtaining a satisfactory settlement or an excellent jury verdict in a tractor trailer accident case. Under Virginia law, the injured party, called the plaintiff, has the burden of proving how and why his accident happened. If the injured party cannot do this, he cannot win his case. The person who caused the accident can remain silent; they have no obligation to present evidence or a defense of any kind at trial as to the accident’s cause. This may not seem fair, but it is a fact the injured plaintiff and their tractor trailer accident attorney must live with. Consequently, in a trucking case, where the stakes are often high because injuries and other damages are frequently very serious, it is critical that an investigation begin immediately after an accident. Otherwise crucial evidence may be lost forever.
The Insurance Company Investigation
Remember, you’ve got competition. Early accident investigation is important in most cases, but in crashes involving large trucks it can be decisive and insurance companies know this. It is standard practice for a trucking company’s insurer to act within minutes or hours after a bad accident to secure evidence that may help its truck driver avoid accountability for his negligence.
Sometimes a trucking company or their insurance company acts so quickly that investigators arrive at the scene while the police are still there. The investigator’s goal is to find all evidence that might help show their truck driver is not responsible for causing the crash. Don’t expect they will bother to document evidence that may help your case!
Of course, an innocent person injured through the negligence of a trucker cannot field a team of investigators as quickly as a trucking company can. However, by engaging an attorney to investigate your case as quickly as possible, you may be able to preserve crucial evidence that will help you win your case.
Sometimes the most important testimony regarding the causes of a truck accident comes from independent eyewitnesses who saw the accident take place and recognize it was the defendant’s fault. This type of evidence, especially when it comes from someone who is not acquainted with the plaintiff, usually makes a positive impression on jurors and is very important.
Finding these witnesses soon after the crash, and documenting their recollection of the accident while it is still fresh in their minds, is imperative. Nothing is more discouraging for an attorney than to track down a witness a year or two after an accident only to have that witness tell him the accident happened so long ago the witness really doesn’t remember much about it.
You want your lawyer or a member of his staff to interview the law enforcement officers who investigated your case as soon as possible. It is rare for a police officer, sheriff, or state trooper to see an accident happen. However, the evidence they gather at an accident scene may play a critical role in the success of your case and reinforce eyewitness accounts. Where no independent eyewitnesses exist, a police investigation may provide most of the first hand evidence a jury will rely on to determine how your accident happened and who was at fault.
Law enforcement officers usually respond to serious truck accidents within minutes. They photograph the scene and the damaged vehicles. They measure skid marks and tire tracks. They examine vehicle debris and scan the area for radiator and brake fluid. When they investigate accidents involving death or severe injuries, they may also ask a special crash team to perform an accident reconstruction. Your lawyer wants to secure all this information early in your case so he can engage experts to help piece together what happened during your accident.
Although police officers ordinarily write up their findings in formal investigation reports, sometimes they don’t include everything they know or remember. By interviewing these officers promptly, your lawyer can document what they remember but didn’t write down. Like other eyewitnesses, a police officer’s independent memory of an accident is likely to fade with time.
Many officers keep personal notebooks in their squad cars and make handwritten notes identifying eyewitnesses and quoting their exact words. They may not copy these notes, word for word, in their official accident reports. Worse, they sometimes throw away their personal notebook when it is full, when they change employers, or when they move. For all these reasons, a personal interview with an investigating officer shortly after a crash can reward you and your attorney with useful information that may not be available later.