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What is an 18-Wheeler Accident Investigation Kit?

When a commercial vehicle accident occurs, information must be gathered. Most trucking companies provide their truckers with something called an accident investigation kit, aka a "compliance kit," which is ostensibly used as a tool to tell truck drivers what information they need to collect at the accident scene. In our view, however, the whole thing is a gimmick. But what exactly is an 18-wheeler accident investigation kit?

Answer: An 18-wheeler accident investigation kit is a collection of forms and checklists used by commercial truck drivers to document important information after a crash, but it's often used to help the trucker gain an advantage over someone they crashed into.

The Supposed Need for an Accident Investigation Kit

The federal government regulates the trucking industry. One of the many rules applicable to commercial vehicles is that they must provide information to the federal government about any accidents they're involved in.

The Rule

Each motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must do the following:

(1) Make all records and information pertaining to an accident available to an authorized representative or special agent of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an authorized State or local enforcement agency representative, or authorized third party representative within such time as the request or investigation may specify.

(2) Give an authorized representative all reasonable assistance in the investigation of any accident, including providing a full, true, and correct response to any question of the inquiry.

49 CFR § 390.15

To help truckers fill this need, several companies sell accident investigation kits. These kits are designed to be a DIY accident report, essentially. They typically consist of a page that tells the truck driver what to do, including things like "Never admit fault," "Set out warning devices," "Take pictures," and other no-brainer instructions.

Then things get interesting.

These Kits Are a Danger to Accident Victims for Two Reasons

First, many of these kits contain rudimentary waivers that truck drivers sometimes convince accident victims to sign. Second, trucking company lawyers sometimes try to use the information procured in the kits as evidence in a case against the victim.

Waiver and Exoneration Forms

As mentioned, many of these kits contain a type of waiver form, often called an "Exoneration Card," which the other motorist might be asked to sign. This may look like kind of a cornball quasi-legal document, but a court could very well construe it as an entirely enforceable post-injury waiver. We don't want to get lost in the weeds discussing when and how post-injury waivers are enforceable, but suffice it to say they can be. Many trucking companies buy accident kits with these exoneration cards and train their truck drivers to bum-rush the other motorist into signing one.

Think about that for a second: Someone was just involved in an accident with an 18-wheeler, they're stranded on the side of the highway, hurt and worried about their car, when suddenly the truck driver starts asking them to sign forms. As you can imagine, this serves only one purpose: To take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position.

Trucking Company Lawyers

There are two sides to every story. Whereas one person may see Operation Desert Storm as America coming to the aid of an ally (Kuwait) whose sovereignty was invaded by Iraq, others regard Iraq's invasion of Kuwait as legitimate (due to Kuwait's supposed slant-drilling operations that were taking oil out of Iraq) and America's response as a cynical move to protect oil companies. Both sides can bolster their arguments by pointing to evidence.

And this brings us to an important takeaway: Evidence can make a non-credible position seem more credible.

With that in mind, you can see how trucking company lawyers would rather have more evidence than less. And to the extent that they can use an accident investigation kit as evidence, they will.

Here's an example of how it typically works: A truck driver takes his eyes off the road and rear-ends Julia. Julia is injured in the accident and is taken to the hospital by ambulance. The police come out to the scene and prepare a two-page, bland, basic report. The only thing of significance contained in this police report is a three-sentence narrative which reads as follows:

Unit 1 was towing Unit 2. Unit 3 was traveling westbound and stopped for traffic. Unit 1 towing Unit 2 collided with the rear of Unit 3.

What you just read is a very good representation of how most police reports read in the state of Texas. They're pretty dull and they usually contain only the most basic information. Now imagine that the aforementioned truck driver pulls out his trusty accident kit. Playing "Junior Detective," he bandies about the accident scene cherry-picking witnesses. He then includes on the forms provided by his company the following narrative:

Several witnesses told me they saw Julia making abrupt lane changes and abrupt stops. A post-accident inspection of my vehicle and brake system shows them to be in good working order. I believe that I was driving at an appropriate speed and timely applied my brakes, yet I did not have enough time to react due to the way Julia was driving.

Now if you're a trucking company lawyer, you would refer to the above passage as evidence. Sure, on our side of the fence we see it as a bunch of self-serving nonsense, but that's not the point. The question is how the jury will view it, and the thing about that is that it gets the trucking company lawyer's foot in the door.

Let's unpack that: If the truck driver never bothered to fill out the accident kit, the trucking company lawyer would be starting from scratch trying to explain away the truck driver's obvious negligence. But now he at least has some supposed evidence he can attempt to get before a jury and muddy the waters. Will the jury find the contrived accident kit information to be more compelling than a police officer's crash report? Probably not, but there's enough of a possibility there that the trucking company lawyer will be able to use it as leverage.

What Should Accident Victims Do if Presented with an Accident Kit Form?

In a nutshell, the answer to that is "don't play ball." You aren't obligated to fill out or sign anything the truck driver hands to you, answer his questions, or admit any responsibility, but from the way some truckers charge at victims with forms and pens in hand you'd never know it. The only things that really need to be done after a crash are exchanging insurance information, answering police questions the best you can, and then getting to a hospital. Providing a truck driver with blanket forgiveness on a form isn't part of the game plan.

Do Accident Investigation Kits Help Truck Accident Victims?

Considering they're designed for, carried by, and filled out by only one side of a wreck, it seems pretty obvious that truck accident kits aren't meant to help everyone involved. The kits help truckers gather the relevant details they need to report to the FMCSA, but they also help the drivers' employers (and their lawyers, and their insurers, and their insurers' lawyers) construct more plausible defenses for why nothing is their fault.

That's why it's always important for accident victims to do as much documenting of their own as possible too. Unfortunately, after crashing with an 18-wheeler many people are in no shape whatsoever to take pictures or interview witnesses. That's where an experienced truck accident attorney can help: Securing and preserving evidence of what happened, then using it to build an effective case, are critical to ensure the right parties are held accountable for the damage done.

The Texas truck accident lawyers at Grossman Law Offices have decades of combined experience assisting people after 18-wheeler accidents. If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a collision with a tractor-trailer, Grossman Law may be able to help. Call any time for a free and confidential consultation.

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