The Trucking Law segment is a monthly feature on Overdrive, in which we pose commonly asked questions from truckers and owner-operators to legal experts. In this installment, attorney Brad Klepper talks about what to do when you are involved in an accident. Find all Trucking Law installments via this link.
If you are in an accident, always keep in mind your own legal protection. Part of that is being careful what you volunteer at the scene.
Let’s say you’re involved in an accident that results in serious injury to another individual. If you feel you are not at fault, your instinct is to cooperate fully with law officers. After all, you’re a professional with nothing to hide. An officer asks questions, so you respond, thinking you’re being helpful.
But three days later, the injured person dies. The prosecutor decides to file a vehicular homicide charge against you. The slightest details you mentioned could be turned against you in court.
Even if you are familiar with your company’s accident procedures – and you should be – one of the first things you should do when you are involved in an accident is to call your company and ask what they want you to do. You may be excited. You may be scared. But the safety department’s job is to handle accidents, so follow their instructions.
You also may want to collect information that could prove helpful to your own cause. Snap some pictures of the surroundings — vehicular damages, positions of the vehicles relative to each other, the highway and relevant signage such as a stop sign or traffic light, etc. Also photograph other vehicles and people on the scene. You want a picture of every car tag and person if you can get it, because you never know what they saw.
Next, collect potential witnesses’ names and phone numbers. Do not try to talk to these people about the accident. You’re not trained in interviewing people, and you don’t want to take the chance of accidentally hurting your case in the event one of them ends up on the witness stand. You simply want contact information so that your company and the defense lawyer can talk to them.
As soon as you have finished your responsibilities on the scene, one of the best things you can do is record – either as a voice message on your phone or as a written note – everything that happened before, during and after the incident. This information could be valuable to refresh your memory should you become a witness on the stand.
In court, data recorded at the time of the incident usually is considered more accurate than your memory months later. In addition, your written or recorded information appears more accurate in the court’s mind than that of an investigating officer who deals with dozens of traffic stops and wrecks every week and yet has to recall the specifics of your incident months after it happened.
While some of this may seem extreme, you never know when an accident or even a basic traffic stop, major or minor, will land you in court defending yourself, with an outcome that could destroy your future livelihood. You have only a brief window at the scene to collect information that could be of tremendous help to you.