Representing Victims of Trucking Accidents
Barry: Well the one thing that you really have to keep in mind that because of the huge size and the really destructive power of tractor trailers, they're really are no such things as "minor truck accidents." These tend to be very, very serious accidents indeed. The other thing you have to keep in mind is that trucking companies are regulated by the federal government. They're required to carry a minimum of 3/4 of a million dollars worth of insurance and it can be even higher with certain types of carriers that are carrying hazardous materials.
So there's always going to be a significant amount of liability insurance that's going to be available for these types of claims, because there's a significant amount of money that's potentially at stake in any one of these cases. Insurance companies can be really, really very aggressive about trying to defend these kinds of claims.
Pam: How are trucking companies aggressive in defending cases?
Barry: Many of the large trucking companies, and the insurance carriers that are involved with them, have what are called go teams spread out all over the country, and these include lawyers, investigators, photographers, accident reconstructionists, so on and so forth, who really are available to go out to the scene of an accident immediately after it occurs and start investigating the accident and documenting what happened.
They'll take pictures at the scene of the accident, take measurements, they'll interview witnesses right away and because a lot of times these investigations are actually being directed by lawyers who are going to be the ones defending the claims on behalf of the insurance companies, they're very cagey about how they go about defending these claims. They'll do a preliminary interview of a witness and if that's an interview that's not favorable, they're not going to record it or get it down in writing, and we may never know that that person was interviewed at the scene.
One of the last cases I worked on before I opened up my own law firm involved a gentleman who was a passenger in a car. It was actually a pickup truck that got rear-ended out on the expressway. While they were all still sitting on the side of the road, the go-team for that trucking company arrived at the scene and started taking pictures. It's one of those moments that as a lawyer, you'll never ever forget because the gentleman I was representing was an iron worker. He works construction. It's one of these jobs where you really need to have good upper body strength and what was being claimed in that case was a torn rotator cuff. And the investigator who was brought out by the insurance company as part of their go-team, started taking pictures of my client, and his two co-workers sitting in the front seat of this pickup truck while the police officer was still doing his write-up of the accident.
And one of the things my client did and it's nothing I'm terribly proud of, but it happened, was he stuck his arm out and flipped off the investigator for the trucking company. And one of the things I heard about throughout the course of this case was well of course there couldn't be anything wrong with his shoulder, look at the picture we just took of him sticking out his arm and raising it up. These kinds of things happen. They certainly don't happen in other kinds of car accident cases and you need to be aware that these are accidents that are going to be aggressively investigated and defended.
The other way that trucking accidents can be very different from other types of car accidents is that many times you'll find them very aggressively pushing settlements with people who are not yet represented by counsel.
Pam: And how can a trucking company pushing a settlement be a bad thing?
Barry: Well one of my underlying beliefs is that many times quick settlements are going to be cheap settlements for the insurance company and a lot of times, you'll find people signing releases before it's really a good time for the case to be settled in terms of them completing their course of medical care.