Truck accident cases never settle because a trucking company decides to do the right thing and pay fair compensation to their victims. The only thing that makes them pay for their misconduct is either a jury verdict against them or the fear that a jury will rule against them. As such, your case must be treated as if it's going to trial, and your attorney must work to prove to the trucking company that a jury will find them liable. In this article, we will discuss what exactly an attorney must prove to ensure that a trucking company is held liable for an accident.
Questions answered on this page:
- Once you've gathered evidence in a truck accident case, what do you do with it?
- An attorney has to prove that a trucking company caused an accident. What else do they have to prove?
- What are expert witnesses, and how do they help win cases?
Evidence is useless without context.
As we discussed in our Evidence and Investigation article, there are a number of vital types of evidence that we spend a great deal of time and effort to obtain. The reason we gather that evidence is not simply to lay it all at the feet of the jury and let them infer from it what they will. No, an attorney's job is to make allegations, present evidence to support those allegations, and then provide additional context and interpretation so that the jury interprets the evidence the right way.
Moreover, every legal case involves proving the legal elements of the accusations made. In the overwhelming majority of truck accident cases, the central allegation made is that the trucking company and/or their driver acted negligently. In order for a jury to rule that negligence indeed occurred, your attorney must prove, through evidence and argument, that all of the elements of a negligence claim occurred.
To be specific, the elements of an accusation of negligence are that the defendant owed a legal duty not to harm you, that they breached that legal duty, that their breach of the duty proximately caused your injuries, and that your injuries resulted in cognizable damages (i.e. losses that can be sued for). If you cannot prove each of these four elements, then you lose your case. So, naturally, your attorney's job is to take the evidence available and use it to show the jury that all of those elements were present.
For instance, your attorney will cite statutes and case law which have clearly established that a trucking company owes a duty not to harm the public. Then he will show that the specific misconduct (say, running a stop light or failure to yield the right of way) is in fact a breach of that duty. These first two elements are usually easy to establish.
Next, your attorney must prove that the defendant's misconduct was the proximate cause of your injuries. This is where most of the fight occurs. The trucking company will always work to find someone else to blame the wreck on. They'll say that you were actually the one at fault, that a mystery car came out of nowhere and cut their driver off, or that their truck malfunctioned, and that's actually what caused the wreck. They are trying to show that there was some other true cause of the crash. Consequently, the physical evidence your attorney gathers at the scene will be essential to proving that the truck driver's misconduct was the true proximate cause of the wreck.
Lastly, your attorney must prove that you suffered actual, significant losses. This is where the other big fight occurs. Once a trucking company can tell which way the wind is blowing with respect to fault, their next plan of attack is to fight you on the value of the case.
During every step of this process, it is imperative that your attorney explain to the jury the significance of everything that they are being shown, and he must also fend off attacks on the validity of the evidence from the trucking company's lawyers.
The role of "expert witnesses" in proving the trucking company is liable for an accident.
Evidence in cases as complex as truck accidents isn't worth anything if the jury doesn't understand their significance. For example, if we're able to secure the results of the driver's drug test after the accident, what does it matter if no one knows what "4,000 ng/ml of opiate metabolites" actually means?
Well, just the same way that eye witnesses tell a jury what they saw, a special class of witnesses, called expert witnesses, tell a jury what they know through their special training and knowledge. Expert witnesses are hired by attorneys to come in to the trial and explain things to a jury such as crash science, standard industry practices and how the trucking company deviated from them, etc.
Here are some of the typical expert witnesses whose skills we put to work to help prove that the trucking company is at fault:
- Accident Reconstructionists: These men and women have a background in physics, law enforcement, and/or accident scene investigations that allows them to determine and attest to exactly how an accident occurred.
- Maintenance Specialists: Often a former maintenance director for a large trucking outfit, these experts can explain to a jury what safe practices are required for keeping a fleet of trucks roadworthy.
- DOT Regulations Expert: Former Department of Transportation officials or company safety directors are well-versed in how DOT rules impact truckers, and can point out inconsistencies in company performance.
- Forensic Toxicologists: Driver drug and alcohol tests are basically indecipherable to the layman. A toxicologist is a scientist who can explain what this level of alcohol or that concentration of opiates means for a driver's ability to function.
- Phone Records Specialist: More and more accidents are caused by distracted truckers who are using their phones. In the past year alone we have won three different cases involving truckers who was watching TV or surfing the web while on their phones. Trucking companies usually try to destroy this evidence, so having a phone records expert dig through the data and determine whether a trucker was on the phone or not is obviously rather important.
- ECM/EDR Black Box Specialists: Modern trucks are equipped with a device that can "remember" how fast a truck was going if, and when, it applied its brakes. However, the data is more like a computer printout of a sea of numbers. These experts can interpret the data and explain what they mean.
- First Responders: Police and state troopers are trained to make determinations about who was at fault. While imperfect, they can explain to a jury why they feel it was the trucker's fault, not yours. Not-so-great lawyers rely on the officer's report and hope for the best. Good lawyers will designate the officer as an expert witness, thereby allowing his opinion to be submitted to the jury in its entirety.
We do not tell you all this to intimidate you about the process of proving your truck accident claim. Instead, as attorneys who have represented hundreds of truck accident victims and their families, we know just how complex the road to getting the justice you deserve is. Navigating it requires a truck accident lawyer with decades of winning settlements and verdicts from companies that had resources similar to the ones you are about to face.
Call Grossman Law Offices today to walk through the process of proving your claim with an experienced truck accident lawyer. The call is free: (855) 326-0000.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
- How Does Commercial Truck Insurance Work?
- Proving Your Losses After an 18-Wheeler Accident
- Understand in the Opposition in a Fatal Truck Accident Case