Truck Driver Accident Procedures Part- II

As discussed earlier, there are quite a few things that a truck driver needs to take care of in the case of an accident. The seriousness of truck accidents can leave us with harsh consequences to face. Unfortunately, accidents are not something one can rule out completely. However, they can always be avoided if proper preventive measures are taken. Despite that, in case of an accident, there are a few rules and procedures that are mandatory to be followed.  These rules are generally set by the Department of Transportation or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

It is indeed important to adhere to these procedures in order to avoid unnecessary complications and heavy penalties during an audit. We have discussed earlier about the immediate steps a truck driver should take following an accident. After having a look at the aftermath of a crash involving a truck or a trailer, let us now see what qualifies for an accident according to the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration).

What is an accident for the FMSCA?

There is certain criterion the FMCSA follows when it comes to qualifying for an accident. The accident has to be a Department of Transport (DOT) qualifying accident. If the collision meets any of the DOT rules, the FMCSA will consider it as a qualified accident. That is;

  • If a vehicle involved in the collision requires to be towing to be taken away from the scene
  • A public road accident- means the accident has taken place on a public road
  • If there are any human fatalities
  • Any injury caused to an individual that demands medical attention away from the accident site

Meeting any of the aforementioned points, qualifies for a DOT approved accident. In this case, the FMCSA would require the accident to be registered and the record of the accident to be maintained for a minimum of three years.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

After an accident, the first legal follow up should be a drug and alcohol test. These tests generally determine which party involved in the crash was at fault, provided the results are positive. Employers generally feel the need to test their employed driver for alcohol consumption and drugs in case of an accident. Unless the employer has an individual policy of alcohol and drug testing which is in accordance with the regulations in their state regarding non-federal testing, they are not allowed to perform any such tests. However, in case of the following situations, an alcohol and drug test may be conducted.

  • Any injury caused to an individual that demands medical attention away from the accident site and the driver receives a citation for moving violation
  • If the accident has caused one or more human fatalities
  • If towing any vehicle involved in the accident is required and the driver receives a citation for moving violation
  • If the accident has taken place on a public road
  • If it is obvious that the driver was at fault for the accident

After an accident, within how much time must a driver have the drug and alcohol tests completed?

The FMCSA has a time stipulation during which the drug and alcohol tests need to be completed. The driver is required to be available irrespective of it being his fault or not in the accident, until the tests are performed.

DOT Breath Alcohol Test

This test is required to be completed within 2 hours of the accident. It often happens that being engaged at the site of the accident, the driver is unable to take the alcohol breath test within the 2 hour time frame. In this case he needs to document why he was unable to take the test within the time frame and continue to document the same every 2 hours after the accident till 8 hours have passed and he is still unable to complete the test procedure.

DOT Drug Test

It is important that the DOT drug test needs to be taken within 32 hours of the accident. Documentation is required if the test cannot be taken for any reason within the 32 hour time frame.

Tests Conducted at the Accident Site

In some cases, the on-site officer carries the breath analyser for alcohol testing. However, any on-site test result will not be released to the employer owing to the HIPPA laws.

The FMCSA on the other hand has certain requirements to be considered during the procedure of drug and alcohol test. The aftermath of an accident may suggest that the driver gets a blood test done. However, the FMCSA will only recognise and draw conclusions from the urine test for drug testing. For alcohol, they may only go by the breath analyser reports.

As the owner of the company, there is a chance you would not be given any of the details on sample collection procedures. However, it is a mandate that you complete all procedures only through a DOT qualified collection site.

In case of an accident, it is very important to follow the post-accident procedures correctly. Accidents can red-flag your company calling for an FMCSA audit at any time. If the post-accident procedures have not been conducted as per norms or have been skipped, you may have to pay heavy penalties. Therefore it would be wise for an employer to look into the follow up of an accident immediately. You could also hire a Third Party Administrator. This makes dealing with the complexities of DOT qualified post-accident procedures easier.

State Federal Laws for the Trucking Industry

The trucking industry has to comply with federal and state laws that set the bar of rules and regulations to be followed by truck drivers and employers of the trucking companies. These laws help determine who is at fault in case of an accident. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are the two main pillars of the federal agencies that play a major role at setting these laws.

Every state has its own department of transportation that decides upon the rules and regulations of inter-state commercial trucking.

Commercial Driver Licenses

Following the state statutes and case law on commercial drivers’ licensing is a mandate for the truck driver. Be it any commercial vehicle for that instance, if the driver involved in the collision does not possess the required license, it can be used against him or his employer in the court of law. In this case even if the collision was not your fault, you may be held responsible because of a missing license.

Hours of Service

There are rules pertaining to the hours of service of the driver. The truck driver is required to take necessary breaks during the journey of transporting goods. He is also required to maintain a log or register for the same. The truck driver is not allowed to drive post hours of service or without resting. If it is proved that a driver was driving without sufficient rest, it could hurt his case in court.

Weight of Goods Being Transported

The size of the truck determines the weight it is allowed to haul from one place to another. While single axle trucks are allowed to carry about 20,000 pounds at a time, two axle trucks are allowed 34,000 pounds approximately. Overloading a truck is not only risky but also against the law. Therefore, checking on the weight and load carried by the truck involved in the crash can prove to be helpful during investigation. If the truck was overloaded, the crash would be considered as the truck driver’s fault.

Quality Check of the Truck

Get a thorough check done on the condition of the truck. There are federal laws for ABS (air braking system). If there is any fault in any part of the truck that could have been the cause of the crash, it could be used as a point for legal action. Truck drivers and owners of the trucking company are supposed to make sure that the truck they use for transportation is in top condition.

Hazardous Waste

There are safety regulations for transporting hazardous materials imposed by the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety (OHMS) on the trucking industry. Therefore, if those rules are not met by the driver of the truck or employer, it could be used against him or the employer of the trucking company, in court, in case of an accident. You could consult a lawyer to learn more about these rules.

Liability in Truck Accident Cases

If it is proved that the truck driver or employer of the trucking company is at fault using any of the aforementioned points, the case will automatically fall out of the driver’s favour. The legal theory of “vicarious liability” suggests that the trucking company can be liable for the damages caused by the accident of its employee. In other words, this means the employer of the trucking company is responsible for the accidents that occur during his company’s business hours.

Any negligence while driving proved, for example, violation of rules, etc. would make it easy to prove the fault the driver. Drunken driving, over speeding, being on drugs, etc. is clearly against the law and hence an accident caused under the influence of drugs or alcohol would leave no room for escape. Over speeding can also be used against the driver in court.

Damages That Can Be Compensated For

Learn what damages you can claim compensation for while filing a lawsuit. A few expenses that can be covered are as follows:

Pain and Suffering: You can ask for compensation for the mental stress and physical discomfort that the accident has brought about. This includes stress, pain, anxiety, etc.

Lost Money: Health care post-accident is bound to keep you at a financial loss. You could claim for all the wages lost during recovery period.

Medical Expenditure: You can claim for hospital and doctor fees. You can also claim for medical service at home and ambulance fees.

Lost Capacity to Earn: If due to the unfortunate accident, you have any damages that impair you to earn money in the future; you could file for claim of lost ability to earn. For example a broken arm, leg, loss of memory, etc. can be claimed.

Loss of a Loved One: In case of demise (could be parent, child or spouse) you could file for compensation of loss.

Talk to a truck accident lawyer for best advice on compensations and case related laws. It is important to hire a truck accident lawyer for any legal action post-accident.

As the aforementioned steps are essential to be taken after an accident, there are also a few measures that could be taken as preparation for a mishap. Nobody wants an accident. But in case you or your employee is faced with one, here is what could be handy.

Prepare for an Accident

There are a few things you could use to prepare your driver in case of an accident. You could keep your truck equipped with a fire extinguisher, warning triangles, disposable camera to record images, a pen and paper to note down the happenings immediately after an accident, etc.

It is extremely important to give your employee (truck driver) a reliable 24 hour first point of contact in case of any emergencies or an accident.

Let it Not Repeat

Identify the root cause of the accident and fix it so that it does not happen again.

Check if the driver had enough of time to rest before getting behind the wheel. If not what could be done to help the situation?

If he was in a hurry, then what caused that hurry? Was it his fault or are your company deadlines too stringent?

Check if you have hired a good driver and if you have done the necessary background check of the driver before hiring him. A truck accident can have very serious consequences and hence cannot be taken lightly. It is the duty of the owner of the trucking company to handle such situations responsibly. For more information on procedures post truck accidents, refer to our Truck Driver Accident Procedures Part 1 blog.

Truck Driver Accident Procedures Part- I

Accidents are those unfortunate mishaps you never want to face irrespective of your business line. Needless to say, the consequences of truck accidents are serious and often harsh. They therefore put a lot at stake. In addition, you can have the FMCSA monitor your company and other companies involved in the accident as well. As bitter as the truth could get, there is no way to strike out accidents altogether. They are bound to occur at some point or the other, be it for your fault or the fault of another. However, there are ways to minimize the risk of an accident. Taking preventive measures can sure reduce the frequency of truck accidents.

In case of truck accidents, it is crucial that these measures are taken seriously as these accidents have a much larger impact in comparison with normal car accidents.

Truck accidents cause grave injuries disrupting the mental status of everyone involved in the mishap. The seriousness of these accidents can never be underestimated. So, What causes these incidents to happen? How can they be avoided? In case of an accident, what are the immediate steps to be taken?

Trucks on road come with their own set of rules and procedures in case of an accident. Here are a few immediate steps you must take in case of an unfortunate collision.

Stop Your Vehicle

No matter how small the hit, it is very important to pull up and check if the person you have banged is alright. If possible, for best investigation, leave the vehicle in the same position as it came to rest right after the collision. You don’t want a hit and run case, therefore, do not leave the accident scene until the investigation is completed. Staying at the accident site will also help you gather more information about the accident for further help with investigation.

Who All Are Injured?

Check how many vehicles and pedestrians are involved in the crash. It is important to first cater to your own immediate needs. If you can move about without much pain, check on the other people involved in the accident and offer help.

Call 911 (The Police)

In case of an accident, call the police immediately. In most cases you would be dialling 911. If the accident has occurred on the highway then your call will be routed to your local law enforcement agency and emergency responding official as part of procedure. Give them exact information about the number of casualties so they can arrange for required number of ambulances.

What if the accident is very minor and there is less injury? Even in this case you will need to call the police. You need to document the accident right away and have records maintained of all involved vehicles by the police for further investigation and record maintaining purpose.

First Aid and Medical Attention

Accidents often lead to internal injuries. Although you may look fine on the outside, you may have some internal bleeding, blood clots, hairline fractures, etc. These injuries may show no symptoms immediately. However, it is important to get yourself and the people involved in the accident examined by a medical professional to remove any sign of doubt for the same. The sooner you have this examination done, the better it is, as any delay would cause confusion in case of an internal injury. It would be difficult for a doctor to say if the injury had really occurred from the accident or not if medical attention is procrastinated. This would also hamper medical insurance claim and cover.

Collecting Information from the Accident Site

If you are not as injured and are safe to walk around the accident scene, you should try to collect as much information as you can in order to help with investigation.

Usually, what looks like a minor incident at first, turns out to be a major one later on. Hence, collect all contact information of every individual involved in the accident. Onlookers can prove to be beneficial as eye witnesses too. If possible, take down their contact numbers as well. Here is a list of information you need to look for;

  • Names, contact information, addresses, of all victims involved in the accident, and all the witnesses present around.
  • Note down the insurance policy number and information of all victims.
  • The VIN numbers, vehicle model and make, license number of driver and license plate number of the accident involved vehicles.
  • All the property damaged during the accident and injury information.
  • Police and ambulance service information. Also, gather information about the tow truck.
  • The time and location of the accident
  • Description of the accident
  • Road condition, weather at the time of accident and the lighting condition

Take Pictures and Capture Videos of the Site

Soon after the accident has taken place, there is much evidence to capture that may not be easily visible to the naked eye. Photographs can prove the fault of the person owing to the vehicle position, skid marks, injuries etc.

These pieces of evidence may prove to be very helpful in case of any future legal action as well. Snap all the damaged vehicles, skid marks, landmarks and intersections at the accident spot. Do not leave out anything that could add body and proof to the incident taken place.

The accident may have you a little traumatized and hence you are more likely to forget bits and pieces of crucial information later on. Record an audio of the mishap as soon as possible to avoid loss of any information. Videos on the other hand, can be more useful.

Truck accidents often take a long period of time to reach a conclusion in court. These pieces of evidence can therefore help with faster decisions for judgement in case of any legal action.

Gather Witnesses

Absolutely anyone who saw the crash take place could be a witness. However, taking down the statement of a witness is the job of the police.

If the accident is a serious one, there is a thick chance your witnesses would disappear after offering needful help and may also slip away from the sight of the police due to the emergency situation. Therefore, as it could be almost impossible to find these witnesses again, it is important to collect their contact information as soon as possible.

Examine Your Vehicle Soon After the Accident

Even though the accident must have been a minor one, it is extremely important to get your vehicle appraised. However, there is a procedure to be followed for this. Hence rushing to your local repair guy and getting your vehicle examined may not be the best idea.

After an accident, you can claim insurance for the repair of your vehicle. Each insurance policy has its own rules depending on their company. While some companies may demand accident photographs, some may allow towing the vehicle to the company authorized repair station. If you do not follow the rules as per your insurance policy, you may not be able to claim insurance over damage. Comply with the rules in your policy and follow procedure accordingly to make the best of your policy.

In case of an employed truck driver, you may need to contact your employer so that he can contact the insurance policy company for further assistance.

Let Your Lawyer Do the Talking

It is very important to keep mum over the accident details after the happening. Do not flow in emotion and spill out words you would probably regret saying, later. There is a thick chance you have understood the situation wrong too. Maybe everything happened in such a jiffy that you hardly could make anything from what has actually taken place. So it is best to keep calm and keep quiet about the incident. Even if you feel you were at fault, do not be too quick to admit it. Narrate the whole incident to your lawyer and make statements only after you lawyer’s wise advice.

Make sure you do not reconstruct the accident with wrong information. It is also extremely important to take care that you do not lie about any happening during the accident. Hence, if you are unsure and confused due to the trauma of the accident, it would be best to keep silent on the matter till you seek advice from your lawyer.

Maintain the same rules in case you feel the other person is at fault. Do not get into trash talking or an unnecessary fight. This could stand as wrong doing in case of further legal action.

Keep Social Media at Bay

Keep only your family and friends in the loop. This should be done over call or message, strictly offline. Do not post any pictures or videos of the accident online to draw undue attention. For that matter even if you see a post of your accident online, avoid commenting or stating anything about it, since you know better.

Social media posting could call for legal action that would simply add to your trouble. Such actions could also hurt your case in court. Absolutely anything you say online could be used against you in court. Even if deleted later, there can be screen shots for proof. There could also be eye witnesses to a deleted post who could testify the post in court. Therefore, it is very important to stay off social media for a while or keep posts related to the accident away from the online web.

Hire a Lawyer Who Handles Truck Accidents

This is the first thing you need to do after finding yourself in a truck accident, being the truck driver. The sooner you appoint a truck accident lawyer, the more beneficial it would prove to be to your case in court. If you are seriously injured, contact a family member to get you a lawyer. A truck accident lawyer can help in multiple ways. The lawyer will help you recover lost wages in the present and future (until recovery from accident) both. He can also help you with the settlement cost of the accident. He would look into the matter of medical treatment cover and other insurance covers as well.

Most accident cases get complicated due to the involvement of two or more parties along with the shipper, manufacturer, employer of the driver and the trucking company. As a truck driver, you may not have sufficient information for dealing with this legality, therefore a truck accident lawyer is extremely important for you to handle such cases with ease.

Soon after an accident, you would need to work closely with your insurance company to avail cover for the damage incurred. However, it is not a mandate that you have to talk with an insurance company official about the accident details soon after the happening. There is no rule as such either. You could always ask for time to hire and consult a lawyer before you make any statements to any official.

It is crucial that you understand that the insurance company official is not a friend although he expresses concern and sympathy for your situation. Most of the times it is just part of their job to be extra polite to get the right words out of your mouth. Although it may sound like the official is favouring you, you must remember even that is only a part of his job. Insurance companies earn their money by paying out less settlement and damage costs.  Mostly an “I am fine” or “I am good” response may give you a smaller settlement amount than deserved.

Therefore it is indeed wise to hold back your emotions and consult a lawyer before making any statements to anyone about the unfortunate accident.

The aforementioned points are the immediate steps a truck driver should take after finding himself in a truck accident, provided he is lucky enough to not be wounded badly. However, in case of a serious injury, most of these steps may not be possible. It is still important to call the police in case of an accident to seek help with the same.

For more information on truck driver accidents, why do they occur? What can be done to avoid such accidents? Does the incident qualify for an accident? If yes, how to go about with the legal procedure? And general rules to follow after the truck accident, refer to our part 2 blog of Truck Driver Accident Procedures.