On Tuesday in Palm Beach County, a trailer came loose on U.S. 27 and caused
another deadly trucking crash. A 2008 Ford Focus struck the trailer, killing
the driver, Carolina Ortiz. Three children in the car, Luis Varona, Alejandro
Varona and Melissa Varona, were also killed. An incomprehensible loss,
but it is unlikely that this is what the trucking company is focused on.
How soon before the trucking company gets investigators and lawyers out
to the scene? In cases I have been involved with, trucking companies have
people at the scene before the police even finished clearing it. I have
seen important evidence destroyed by trucking personnel. The evidence
gathered (or destroyed) in the first days after the crash can be critical
to proving what actually happened. By getting their people to the scene
immediately, the trucking company can alter the course of the investigation.
In addition, unlike a damaged car that can sit in an impound yard for
months, commercial trucks can be put back on the road quickly even after
a fatal crash. Key evidence can be erased by the trucking company in the
name of getting the vehicle back to work right away. All this can happen
while the family is still in mourning for their sudden and overwhelming loss.
The enormous weight of commercial trucks makes them incredibly deadly.
Trucking crashes can be horrific. When I look back over the course of
my career, some of the most disturbing and catastrophic cases I handled
were trucking crashes. A trucking crash involving a trailer detachment
is particularly scary – trailer detachments are so rare that drivers
generally have no experience dealing with them. Sometimes the injuries
are so disturbing that the doctors and medical personnel require therapy
after treating the victims.
Because of the grave dangers large trucks present to passenger cars, truck
drivers and trucking companies are subject to numerous federal and state
laws meant to keep our roadways safe. Unfortunately, though, it is commonplace
for truck drivers and trucking companies to violate the safety rules meant
to protect the public. As a result, thousands of people nationwide are
killed or hurt in trucking accidents every single year.
The regulatory framework that governs commercial trucking requires compliance
with hours of service constraints, licensing conditions, and maintenance
standards. These complicated regulations are but one reason trucking crashes
are different and more complicated than collisions between passenger vehicles.
What makes trucking accidents unique, however, creates distinct obstacles
for victims and their families who attempt to hold trucking companies
accountable. Trucking companies are generally well funded, and represented
by lawyers who know how to use the intricacies in the trucking laws to
shield their clients from liability. Victims and their families need the
same expertise on their side. Holding those at fault for causing a trucking
accident responsible requires the involvement of attorneys who know how
to navigate those complicated trucking laws, and who know where to find
and how to gather the crucial and time-sensitive evidence unique to trucking
Families dealing with the tragic and sudden loss of loved ones have more
important things to do in the days after the crash than speak to attorneys.
However, the trucking company can move immediately to alter the legal
landscape in its favor. In cases like this, I would get out to the scene
as soon as possible to preserve and document evidence on behalf of the
family. Physical evidence such as tire marks and pieces of the vehicles
will still be at the scene and may later prove critical to reconstructing
the crash. This evidence disappears fast. Trucking companies often blame
the other driver. Whenever the other driver is killed (which is not uncommon
in serious trucking crashes), that driver cannot defend herself. Only
the physical evidence can speak for the driver in this crash.