As you're reading this article, there are hundreds of thousands of commercial trucks on the highway, and thousands of these trucks will get into an accident today. Though there are fewer of these trucks than cars out on the road, and therefore fewer accidents overall, because of the size and power of the vehicles, when an accident does occur in which a commercial truck is involved, there is a higher chance of severe damage, major injuries, and even fatalities. When there are many of these trucks out on the highways, it is also not improbable for these trucks to get into accidents with one another as well. When an accident involves multiple semi-trucks and passenger vehicles, it's often difficult to tell who is at fault.
Imagine a hypothetical situation on an interstate with extremely rainy and slick conditions. You're driving in your car when you see two 18-wheelers sliding on the road in front of you. Suddenly, they collide into each other, after which one of them overturns and crashes into two more cars. Those two cars are thrown forward into an 18-wheeler directly in front of them. As the only eyewitness, you are left wondering how and why this five vehicle accident occurred. What really happened here?
Who's to Blame?
Of course the easy thing to do in an accident like this would be to jump to conclusions and blame the driver that first struck another vehicle. However, not only would that be an uninformed and inaccurate conclusion to make, it's also sometimes hard to tell who struck who first. In accidents like these, when there are more than two vehicles involved, there are often as many different perspectives regarding what took place as there are drivers involved, and often each driver will put forward an account of events that attempts to free them of any blame. It's also worth considering what happens when one of the drivers is critically injured or killed, leaving them unable to even offer a point of view. In addition, sometimes things happen so quickly that drivers will be unsure what happened. The best way to solve this problem and determine what actually happened is by hiring an expert accident re-constructionist to conduct a full and complete investigation, with more resources and expertise than local police generally possess and without the inherent bias of investigators working for a trucking company or their insurer. The independent investigation will be an unbiased attempt to find out what really happened and who does or does not share in the blame.
Why are these cases more difficult?
Besides the obvious reality that more vehicles are involved in these accidents and more investigation is required, they are also more difficult because each trucking company will do everything they can in order to protect their driver so that they won't be held liable. Often, each trucking company has their own separate lawyer who will begin to take action immediately after an accident. For example, even if the police reports don't include information from the black box data, the trucking company's lawyer will have access to this information. The lawyer will often call the driver or come to the scene of the accident to coach the truck driver on what to say or not say. He or she may also take photos from the scene in a way that will look most favorable to his or her client. These small things can skew information in their favor. This is a problem, because the innocent drivers who may be seriously injured could be prevented from getting the compensation they deserve.
Conducting an Investigation
Third-party investigations can be conducted in a variety of ways, but their main purpose is to reconstruct the scene of the accident. Just like a murder investigation reconstruction, it needs to be determined where each party was located and who was doing what at the time of the accident. Many factors will be taken into consideration: each vehicle will be inspected to make sure none of experienced mechanical failure prior to the crash, any photos or skid marks at the scene will be analyzed, road conditions will be tested, cell phone service may be analyzed, and any witnesses will be interviewed. Sometimes truck drivers will be tested for drugs and alcohol, but this is only required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration if a fatality has occurred. In addition, many commercial trucks have black box data that will be able to tell things like how long the vehicle has been in service, GPS location at time of impact, speed at time of impact, where a hard brake first occurred, and if the driver was wearing a safety belt or not. However, this data is not always immediately acquired by police investigators because of equipment or time pressure constraints.
Beginning an Investigation
How do these investigations happen? If someone is injured or their family member is killed because of a multi-truck accident, it's important to take action as quickly as possible. Even though a victim or their family members may not be ready to file a claim, an investigation conducted under the guidance of a private investigator or attorney will help establish many facts occluded by the fog of uncertainty. Many law firms will only charge a contingency fee, meaning that those involved never have to pay anything out of pocket. An investigator or attorney will have accident reconstruction experts working for them to help gather evidence regarding the case. In addition, they will examine medical reports, police reports, and other information that pertains to the accident. Most accident victims just want to make sure that the negligent act that caused their injuries is not repeated so that they can prevent someone else from being harmed in the future.