Chapter Fifteen Truck Crash Investigation and Litigation
When retained in a Truck Crash case, Burger Law immediately investigates the case. We go to the scene, collect all relevant documents like police reports and accident reconstruction reports, obtain pictures and video, get alcohol and drug test results, medical records, etc. We interview witnesses and take statements where necessary. We usually hire our own accident reconstruction expert who will investigate the crash and be able to render opinions about speed, distance, forces of impact, what happened in the crash, what safety rules were broken and how those rule violations caused the crash and injuries or death resulting therefrom. With our experts, we almost always remove and review the “black box” or event data recorder from vehicles involved to get crucial information about speed, brakes used, yaw or sideways movement, and whatever else the data will provide. Sometimes there is no data to obtain – either because the black box was not working or the crash did not trigger a recording. We make a thorough and quick assessment of all relevant liability facts and evidence.
We also identify the truck drivers and the company for which they are driving – and all other drivers, vehicle occupants, and witnesses. We contact the truck drivers, truck companies and their insurance companies to advise we are involved in the case and to communicate with us. We proceed with the claim and often help our clients navigate medical insurance, bills and doctors and medical tests. If they do not need help, our clients keep us informed of their medical course. We get all the medical records and bills and other damage evidence (e.g., wage loss). We often present this to the other side and try to settle or resolve the case prior to filing a lawsuit. We are sometimes successful in early resolution, but often have to file suit and litigate a case to get full value for our clients’ damages.
If a case does not settle, we file a lawsuit and engage in litigation. Clients often ask me – what exactly happens during litigation? How does the process work?
Well, if someone is injured, they have a legal claim but need to take action to pursue it. To do so they file a lawsuit, also called a complaint or petition, and begin litigation. Litigation is the process where lawyers discover and prepare their evidence for trial. Evidence can be witness testimony, both normal (lay) and expert, documents, pictures and videos, objects like a part of a car, a glove or a knife, and answers to questions and requests for admissions by parties.
Litigation begins after a complaint is filed. Then the parties to the case usually exchange written requests for information and documents. Those are called interrogatories, which means questions or requests for the production of documents to get documents. Sometimes parties can inspect things like a vehicle or someone’s property. There are also requests for admissions in which one party asks another party to admit something. After the initial questions are answered and after the initial documents are exchanged, typically people do depositions.
In a deposition, the opposing lawyer gets to ask the party or witnesses questions until they are done or reach a time limit in some jurisdictions. The lawyers are supposed to try to keep the questions relevant to the claims at issue. There are a lot of cases that can be litigated: breach of contract, probate, intellectual property, but we mostly do personal injury litigation here at Burger Law.
In a personal injury case, a witness typically discusses the incident or negligence of the defendant that caused the injury to the person: the car crash, the medical error, the slip and fall, what caused the death, and workers compensation cases, work-related injury, the truck crash, etc. Testimony is provided about the incident; the damages; what the person was like before and what they’re like after. When I am taking the deposition of the defendant, I’m typically asking them about their conduct: Are they owning up? Have they taken responsibility for what they did? Did they hurt the person? How did they hurt the person? Are they admitting liability, not admitting liability? Do they contest the facts that are at the basis of the matter?
There are a whole host of things that go into depositions, and a court reporter is taking everything down and the witness has sworn to tell the truth. This is how we get the testimony of witnesses and know what the testimony is going to be like at trial because trials should not be an ambush. You should know basically what the story is, and before we go into court to take the court and the jury’s time, we need to be able to establish the facts. You only want to present to the jury what you can prove and what the facts are, and so we use depositions and these exchanges of information to do that. I have a number of videos on litigation.
I also have a number of videos that I use for my clients to prepare for depositions. There is a rule of civil procedure that affords the parties to take depositions. You can take depositions of the opposing party, the plaintiff or defendant, and their relatives or friends who have relevant evidence about the case. You can take depositions of witnesses. You can take depositions of outside companies that either has records or information important to your case. You can take the depositions of experts. Sometimes we hire experts on liability to prove how or why a defendant was negligent.
In a truck crash case, we hire experts to talk about their opinions about speed, distance, the forces involved and the errors done by the truck driver. Those experts can testify about the vehicle’s data recorder, damage to vehicles, skid marks, etc. We also take depositions of medical doctors where they come in and say, “I treated this client. They have these injuries. They were caused by this car crash or this slip and fall, and here’s what my diagnosis is, my prognosis, my treatment, and my surgery. Here’s their past medical, here’s their future medical,” and then we go into detail sometimes with diagrams and other things to try to show the jury, take to the jury, convey to the jury the types of injuries that our client sustained.
Sometimes you have depositions of experts about economic damages or other types of things. When depositions occur, they go question, answer, question, answer, where the lawyer asks the question and the deponent answers the question. The lawyer waits till the deponent is done with their answer, and the deponent gives or the witness gives the lawyer the same courtesy, and you basically go through questions to try to elicit evidence that is relevant at trial.
If a lawyer goes too far afield or is not courteous to the witness, that can draw objections from the other side. They may object that you’re asking irrelevant questions or you’ve already asked it once. There are a whole host of evidence objections a lawyer can make. The same type of objections you would make at trial, you can make at a deposition to preserve your record, and all this is taken down by a court reporter who records the questions and the answer. And those depositions can go on for some time. The more experience you have with cases, usually the shorter your depositions are. I try to hone in on the issues I need to inquire about and focus on that and not waste anybody’s time, and I certainly want to honor the time of the witness and the other lawyers as well.
And a lawyer can use documents in a deposition. Witnesses can be shown documents and asked to interpret documents at depositions. A witness usually wants to prepare for the deposition and think about the questions that are going to be asked, work with their lawyer to prepare, to get focused on the types of questions and what appropriate answers are to get the accurate information, know what documents are going to be looked at during the case and not be surprised. You may not know exactly how many feet were between you and the truck when you first saw it come through. A witness can be asked to provide their best guess and can also give their best estimate of distance, speed and other things.
Sometimes lawyers try to be too pushy or too aggressive in depositions. They think they can influence answers. That’s inappropriate. Sometimes the defense lawyer thinks by objecting, they’re trying to answer the question for their witness. That’s an effective tactic, but equally inappropriate as well.
Sometimes in litigation, the lawyers have disputes with the other side about what evidence they are entitled to get, which is resolved in motion practice. There are many types of motions – to compel discovery, to dismiss a case, for summary judgment for one side before a trial (and if so then there will be no trial).
Truck crash investigation and litigation is a huge topic that is only touched on in this chapter. We live this litigation on a daily basis – and teach other lawyers how to do this. On our website and our YouTube channel, we have a lot of information about the claims and litigation stages of cases. Call us if you have more questions or need our help.