According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes increased by 3 percent from 2015 to 2016. Among the total vehicle deaths in 2016, 4,213 were caused by collisions with large trucks. That’s a pretty sobering statistic.
Luckily, not every vehicle accident is fatal. However, there were still 104,000 injury crashes involving trucks that year. The question of who is responsible is often more complicated than other types of vehicle collisions. For instance, various parties are involved on the truck’s side, including:
- The truck driver
- The owner of the truck
- The person or company that leased the truck
- The vehicle, parts or tire manufacturers
- The loader or shipper of the truck’s cargo
Understanding the entities connected to the truck will help with your case.
The trucking, hauling and leasing companies typically argue amongst themselves on whose insurance will be compensating the victims. For example, a trucking company might claim defective brakes caused the accident while the manufacturer might blame the leasing company – claiming it failed to properly maintain the parts. See how it can get tricky?
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If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you’ve probably heard of police reports. In today’s blog, we’ll explain how to obtain one for a truck accident and which components will be most helpful when building your case.
The Laws Governing Truck Accidents
Federal laws govern the trucking industry while agencies like FMCSA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), and state-level Department of Transportation (ODOT) help regulate the driving. These laws establish standards which trucking companies, owners and drivers must meet. The bulk of federal regulations dealing with the trucking industry can be found in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Can Trucking Companies Avoid Liability?
Believe it or not, truck companies can avoid liability. Luckily, it’s changed drastically over the years. In the past, trucking companies often tried to avoid liability by distancing themselves from the driver, vehicle and equipment. Here’s how they did it:
- The trucking company obtained permits to operate the truck.
- They leased the truck and equipment from the owner-operator.
- They hired drivers as independent contractors.
- They provided the owner-operator with a placard, affixed to the truck.
When a truck accident would occur, the company would argue the driver wasn’t an employee. And since they didn’t own the equipment, they weren’t responsible for the operation, maintenance, repairs or inspections. As you can see, there were various flaws with this method of determining liability. So, federal laws and regulations were put in place to put an end to it.
How to Obtain a Copy of the Police Report
To obtain a paid copy of the police report, you’ll need to make a request with the local law enforcement that drafted it. Before leaving the scene of the accident, the officer may hand you a receipt with an identification number for the report. From there, you’ll contact the traffic division of the agency and pay a small administrative fee to get a copy.
Tip: If for some reason, you don’t have the identification number, you can provide the date, time and location of the truck accident to locate the report. To obtain a free copy of the police report, you can ask your insurance company for a copy.
What to Look For in the Police Report
At the scene of the accident, the officers inspect the vehicles, talk to witnesses, measure distances, take notes and photos. They’re doing this in order to gather the necessary information for drafting the police report. The officer might also obtain the following elements:
- Date, time and location of the truck accident
- Names, addresses, phone numbers and insurance information
- Location of vehicle damages
- Weather, roadway and lighting conditions
- Statements from involved parties and witnesses
- Citations and/or violations of law
- Potential notes regarding fault determination
Police reports are helpful. But remember, the items can be taken as facts or opinions. For instance, the date, time and location of the truck accident are all facts. Notes on what caused the condition or who might potentially be faulted are opinions of the investigating officer. If you notice something in the police report that is incorrect, you should contact the reporting agency immediately to notify them of the inaccuracy.
Often insurance companies rely heavily on police reports without conduct a thorough investigation, which is why it’s best to enlist the assistance of an attorney to ensure the police report is correct and being used favorably in your case.
What Happens Next?
Police reports may be used in settlement negotiations. In small claims court, litigants may be permitted to use police reports as evidence in the case. However, in the district courts, both parties will be held to the rules of evidence and must contend whether or not the report is within the rules against “hearsay.” We recommend calling an attorney who will help guide you through the legal process and greatly improve your chances of receiving fair compensation for your claim.
To learn more about what to do in a truck accident or to speak with one of our attorneys, we invite you to reach out to us today at (405) 701-6376.
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