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How Trucking Companies Escape Liability When They Kill People

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 crash cases.

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.

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