18 wheelers on our highways are becoming more and more prevalent today. According the most recent data released from the U.S. Department of Transportation, since 2013, the number of big rigs being registered for our roadways have increased at a rate hovering around 300,000 trucks per year. According to most estimates, there are 15.5 million large trucks operating in the U.S. today, traveling at least 11.2 million miles per year. No one really wants to think about the possibility of being involved in an 18-wheeler accident. The thought of the devastating consequences of an 18 wheeler losing control and hitting another vehicle is enough to drive most drivers off the road altogether. But we continue to share roads with these massive vehicles and accidents do happen (415,000 crashes per most recent figures – 2015). Although none of us want to be included in the next round of 18-wheeler accident statistics, if it does happen, it is important to be aware of the steps that should be immediately taken to protect your rights. Those steps include:
- Remaining at the Scene: You should remain at the scene until it is appropriate to do so. If you leave, you may face criminal charges for “hit-and-run” or other penalties, especially if someone sustained injuries or was killed.
- Checking Everyone Involved: Make sure everyone involved in the accident is okay. If you or someone else has been injured, call 911 or a local emergency medical service (EMS). If someone is unconscious or is in pain, do not move them unless an imminent emergency or hazard requires doing so.
- Speaking to Witnesses: Ask all witnesses what he/she saw, then get their names and contact information. Be cordial when speaking to them.
- Calling the Police: Call the local or state police if physical or property damage has been sustained. Upon arrival, obtain the name and badge number of the responding officer. Also, request an incident number and ask that a police report be filed.
- Obtaining Truck Driver’s Information: Get the name, address, phone number, AND if you gather nothing else, make absolutely sure you get the truck driver’s commercial driver’s license number.
- Obtaining Truck’s USDOT Number: It is very important to get the 18-wheeler’s USDOT Number, which is a number that Identifies that particular truck, which will allow you to track down the owner of the 18-wheeler; find out what insurance company provides insurance coverage for the 18-wheeler; and other critical information that may not be available to you at the scene of the accident. Commercial vehicles are required to display its USDOT Number, which is usually located at the rear or side of the truck.
- Gathering Other Truck Information: write down the truck’s license plate number; any company names displayed on the truck; any identifying information about the tractor and trailer of the entire big rig, such as the color, make, and model of both the tractor and trailer that is attached and being pulled by the tractor.
- Taking Photographs: take photographs of all skid marks on the road and grass; damage to your vehicle and the 18-wheeler; the entire sides of the 18-wheeler (e.g. front, back, & sides); any evidence lying on the ground/road, such as parts blown off of either vehicle during impact; the nearest speed limit sign; and if near a construction zone, take picture of the entire construction zone.
- Consult an Attorney: Once you have been allowed to leave the scene and/or have sought medical attention, it is best to consult with an experience attorney. The attorney will inform you of your rights and will relieve you of dealing with the 18 wheeler company and their insurance companies. The attorney will also help you maximize your recovery if you have suffered damages.
Taking these steps are important to protecting your rights. After an 18-wheeler accident, critical evidence is quickly lost by highway workers clearing the scene and the 18-wheeler company. If you gather the evidence listed above and immediately contact a truck accident attorney, he/she will be able to use the evidence you gathered and immediately send a letter to the appropriate individuals demanding that they preserve and make available all evidence related to the accident. He can also use the evidence to evaluate certain aspects of your claim like fault and damages. ****The photograph above is not a depiction of any actual event or scene, but merely a dramatization.