Proving Your Case: St. Louis Trucking Expert Michelle M. Funkenbusch
Funkenbusch is a former trucking defense lawyer and now million dollar verdict winner against trucking companies. She is an expert on knowing how to make a case against a trucking company.
Was there Negligence By the Truck Driver?
In general, the main legal theory of liability in a Missouri truck accident case, or any other motor vehicle accident case, is negligence. To establish a case, Missouri truck accident lawyer must show that the truck driver failed to use the HIGHEST degree of care in operating a truck on our roads.
It is critical to begin investigating the accident as soon as possible so that evidence is preserved. There are a variety of types of information that are relevant to your claims, including information about previous violations of regulations by the trucking company or driver involved, the truck’s maintenance records, the speed the truck and your vehicle were traveling, the location of the impact on the vehicles’ exteriors, the truck driver’s log book and statements from eye witnesses and first responders to the accident scene, such as emergency personnel and police officers. Another critical piece of evidence is the truck’s “black box,” which records data before, during and after a collision. It will probably also be useful to investigate the trucking company’s policies and procedures.
An expert can be a tremendous resource to use in proving your truck accident case. An expert can testify about the possible negligence of a trucking company based on his or her familiarity with trucking regulations. An expert can be any person who has significant experience in the trucking field, such as a trucking company’s safety director, the former owner of a trucking company, a former investigator for the department of transportation in your state or a computer expert who has experience obtaining information from the “black box.”
Driver’s Qualification File
Truck accident investigations include obtaining one very important piece of evidence which most people don’t even know exists, the Driver Qualification File.
In addition to the claim against an at-fault truck driver, you might also have a claim against his employer and the trucking company he drove for. While much of the evidence you will need to prove your case will be obtained at the scene of the accident, the Driver Qualification File (DQF), can provide information that is often quite successful in helping to win a Missouri truck accident case.
Ok, then, what’s a DQF?
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require every trucking company to maintain a DQF for every driver it employs. Some of the information in these files can prove invaluable when establishing grounds for your case. Items in the DQF must by law include:
- All employment applications
- Driving records, including any and all accidents the truck or driver has been involved in
- Copies of valid licenses
- Road test results
- Annual review records
- Vehicle maintenance records
- Personnel records
- Medical certifications
- Hours of service records
- Alcohol and drug test results
- The driver’s employment history
- Any recognized training certificates
As well as this information being on file, every commercial driver must also have all of the following qualifications. They must:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Be in good health and physically able
- Have the ability to both read and speak English
- Know how to load and properly secure cargo
- Be able to operate their vehicle safely
- Have a valid commercial driver’s license
- Have passed a recognized driving test
- Possess a valid medical certificate
What this all means for you is that if the driver of the truck that hit and injured you does not meet every one of the requirements listed above, the chances of your case succeeding go up dramatically. If nothing else, failure to meet these requirements indicates a level of negligence on the part of the driver and his employer.
Great! How do I get hold of the DQF?
The odds are you won’t be able to get the DQF on your own. Truck companies are notoriously reluctant to part with DQF files, particularly if they know the information will show any degree of negligence or liability on their part.
Obtaining the DQF will almost certainly require intervention from an experienced truck accident attorney who may, if necessary, subpoena the trucking company for the DQF or obtain same in litigation.
What else will my Tractor-Trailer accident lawyer look for?
Strict federal rules and regulations apply to both interstate truck drivers and the companies who employ them. As such, there are a number of areas your attorney can look into to help your case. Some of the restrictions placed on drivers for which precise records must, by law, be maintained include:
- How much time the driver was on the road since his last break
- What they have consumed
- What they are allowed to haul
As I mentioned earlier, trucks also frequently are fitted with black boxes similar to those found on jet aircraft to make sure authorities can investigate a truck accident later. The information recorded by these devices can also be critical in proving what happened just before your accident happened.
An experienced trucking trial lawyer will ask for data contained within this black box, including:
- Sudden changes in velocity
- Sudden, violent braking
- Changes in the number of engine RPMs
- The truck’s speed at the time the brakes were applied
- Gear shifts or changes
If the truck is fitted with a GPS tracking device, details of the vehicle’s location at any given moment (and therefore the speed at which it got to the next point) can easily be ascertained. This can be critical in determining whether the truck driver’s behavior could have contributed to your accident.