By their sheer size and bulk alone, tractor-trailers are already inherently more capable of inflicting harm when something goes wrong than most other vehicles on the road. The matter is made considerably worse when a truck driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This raises the question: When someone is hurt or killed in a crash with an impaired truck driver, how can they and their loved ones prove the driver was under the influence?
Answer: The evidence needed to prove a truck driver was intoxicated can come from 1) a blood or urine sample taken by the police, 2) a blood or urine sample taken by the trucker's employer, or 3) the testimony of eyewitnesses.
In this article we will look at those sources of evidence and their value in building a truck accident victim's case.
Toxicology Testing: The Smoking Gun
Testing a DWI suspect's blood or urine is typically the best way to get objective proof of whether or not they were under the influence. Commercial drivers are also held to a much stricter standard when it comes to impairment, so a clear indication of what they had in their system before a collision can be a powerful tool in holding them responsible for it.
In many cases police will collect samples and send them to a lab for related tests, but it can be hit-or-miss whether they get around to that during a typical investigation—particularly if they don't see obvious signs of impairment.
However, trucking companies are required by federal law to test their drivers for intoxication "as soon as practicable" after most 18-wheeler accidents. That doesn't mean they will readily share the test results with victims, though. Instead, results are often quickly sent to the FMCSA and then any other copies are destroyed in an effort to cover their tracks. But fret not: Experienced truck accident lawyers know how to uncover such evidence.
Example: In a recent case, an 18-wheeler rear-ended the victim's car so hard that his head snapped backward with lethal force into his seat's headrest. Police at the scene didn't collect samples from the truck driver for testing, but his employer fulfilled its federal obligation and learned the trucker was on a lot of cocaine when he hit the victim's car.
Unsurprisingly, the company didn't mention that to anyone else. While investigating the crash we had reason to suspect they weren't sharing crucial information, which resulted in a months-long fight with the defendants to get the driver's drug test results. Eventually our experienced Dallas truck accident lawyers prevailed and we used those results to devastating effect in proving the trucker was at fault.
Whether test results come from police via open records or have to be forcibly pulled out of a trucking company's grip, a skilled lawyer should be able to acquire the evidence.
Eyewitness Testimony as a Backup
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of evidence: Direct and circumstantial.
Direct evidence is evidence that by itself proves something. For instance, security video footage that clearly shows one person shooting another would be direct evidence.
Circumstantial evidence, however, requires a certain amount of inference to be considered proof of anything. In the shooting example above, an eyewitness seeing the shooter throw a gun-shaped object into a river after gunshots were heard nearby would be circumstantial evidence. The witness heard the shots, saw someone dispose of an item that could have been a firearm nearby, and drew a connection between the two, but didn't directly witness the shooting.
Circumstantial evidence is inherently weaker than direct evidence, but that doesn't mean it's useless. Even if both law enforcement and the trucking company fail to furnish drug test results after a crash, for example, witnesses to the crash could still provide helpful descriptions of the truck driver acting intoxicated before and after the collision. Their testimony just has to be framed correctly to serve its purpose.
Other Liable Parties
Sometimes investigating an intoxicated truck driver's actions shows other parties may share some responsibility for the injuries they caused. For instance, since truckers most often crash while on a job their employers may be vicariously liable for the damage the drivers cause. We've also seen more than a few instances where a company either knew or should reasonably have known their driver had problems with substance abuse, yet did nothing. Why? Because they were more concerned with "putting the load on the road" than they were with their duty to protect public safety.
Furthermore, if the trucker was intoxicated by alcohol then any licensed vendor (bar, restaurant, etc) that over-served him may be partly liable for the damage he caused while drunk. Under dram shop law, such businesses are prohibited from selling or serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated customers—but you'd never know it from the way some of them recklessly refill people's glasses. When they do that and those customers hurt or kill someone, the bar may share some responsibility for it. To learn more, take a look at our guide to Texas dram shop law.
Time is NOT on Your Side
Drunk driving cases are often complicated, and ones involving commercial truck drivers are certainly no exception. Proving the driver was intoxicated takes swift and decisive action, or there's a risk that the evidence could disappear. Documenting the crash, subpoenaing toxicology results, deposing witnesses, and investigating other possibly-complicit parties is asking a lot of people whose main priority should simply be to get back on their feet, so an attorney in their corner can be invaluable.
The Texas truck accident lawyers at Grossman Law Offices have been helping people injured by 18-wheelers, including those operated by intoxicated drivers, for decades. If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a crash with an impaired trucker, our attorneys may be able to help. Call us any time for a free and confidential consultation.