Something I continually encounter in truck accident cases are the various surveillance operations launched by trucking companies and their insurers against my clients. As crazy as it sounds, trucking companies spy on people who file claims against them all the time.
Why they do this.
Before I go into this, there is a misconception about truck accidents I'd like to address. People often assume that trucking companies are required to purchase insurance policies whose purpose is to ensure that victims are properly compensated for their losses. This is simply not true. Just as a criminal defendant is innocent unless proven guilty, so too is a trucking company. But unlike a criminal case where the state takes on the burden of prosecuting the claim, in an injury or wrongful death case the victims themselves must file suit against the defendant and prove their case by the standards of the civil justice system. Should an accident victim fail to go about prosecuting the negligent trucking company, or fail to do so in the manner proscribed by the court, it's entirely possible for them to destroy any chance at receiving fair restitution.
You see, just as a district attorney or prosecutor has to gather hard evidence against a criminal defendant in order to convince a jury to return a guilty verdict, accident victims likewise must obtain evidence in order to prove that a wrongdoer is liable. The problem is that, while prosecutors have all of the resources of the state at their disposal, accident victims rarely have the resources or expertise to go through the evidence gathering process on their own. So one of two things usually happens:
- The victims rely solely on the police report to serve as their evidence against the trucking company, and they quickly learn that trucking companies are quite skilled at nullifying the effects of a police report, or
- The victims hire a lawyer who knows better than to rely solely on a police report. Experienced lawyers know that they need a lot more evidence than what the police come up with to prevail.
All this is to say that the burden is on the victim to prove their case. And just as a criminal defendant can retain an attorney (or a team of them) to defend their innocence in court, so too can a trucking company. The company's objective in doing so is finding any and all plausible scenarios in which their fault is reduced. Oftentimes this includes trying to make the victims look bad.
This brings us to the point of this article. If a trucking company's lawyers can portray an injured person (or a deceased victim or their family) in a negative light, then the outcome may not be as bad for the trucking company financially, as a victim portrayed negatively is likely to garner less sympathy from a jury. This creates a strong incentive for trucking companies to make victims look bad. However, since many victims are smart enough to get a lawyer who limits the amount of contact that the trucking company has with their client, trucking companies have learned to get creative and send investigators out into the field to spy on accident victims, talk to their friends, coworkers, and relatives, and generally dig into their lives, all in the hopes of finding some dirt to make the victims appear less sympathetic in the eyes of the jury.
They might use issues like family discord or estrangement to weaken the claim of the victim. They might identify long-forgotten criminal pleadings against the defendant, or old injuries they sustained decades ago. And when they can't find any genuine familial strife or other dirt to bring into the courtroom, many trucking companies will even purposefully take things out of context that victims or their families said in an innocent way, just to drum up controversy. I know this is shocking, but it happens in courtrooms across America, every single day.
What we've seen them do.
Companies use a variety of tactics to spy on victims and their families. For example, we've seen victims followed and videotaped by trucking company investigators. We've seen instances where people posing as strangers approach victims or their family to strike up conversations in order to elicit information from them. The companies will use information posted on Facebook or other social media outlets. This invasion of privacy is just the beginning. We've even seen them go so far as to get statements from ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, former spouses, or neighbors if they think it can be helpful to their case. Heck, we've even seen representatives of truck companies show up to victim's funerals. And these are all tactics negligent companies use to build their case against the victim. From a legal perspective, ethically dubious as it may seem, it's actually a good strategy on their part. They know they'll lose in many cases, so they try to find reasons to make juries less willing to compensate victims, which mitigates their losses. The problem is that they're toying with people's lives in the process, and that I can't abide.
In short, you can't just hope that the trucking company will do the right thing. They will do everything in their power to thwart the efforts of the accident victims to receive a just outcome for their losses. Their aim is to find something, anything to weaken the case.
I've seen it time and time again, and that won't change. But a knowledgeable attorney will know how to counteract their tactics and keep a jury focused on what's truly important in a case. This better protects your interests in an accident with an 18-wheeler.