Electronic Evidence in Truck Accident Cases

Thanks to emerging technology, attorneys increasingly have access to more and more evidence that may help to prove their clients' cases. As litigation techniques evolve with the available technology, computerized dispatch records, cell phone forensics, GPS technology and computer animations make it possible for lawyers to better investigate their cases and better represent their clients at trial.

Digital data has already begun to affect truck accident litigation. For instance, federal motor carrier safety laws regulate the hours of service for all commercial truck drivers. Truck drivers, however, sometimes falsify logs, so that they can travel more miles and for more hours in a day than would be allowed. The end result of this is that drivers are at times not where they report to be. What happens if a truck driver is involved in an accident, but claims he was somewhere else entirely when it happened?

The chances of getting away with such a claim are significantly less now than they used to be. Today, GPS technology used by trucking companies, security cameras on the street and cell phone records all can be used to verify a drivers location. This is just one of the many potential uses of emerging technology in litigation.

Electronic Logbooks
A lively debate is going on within the trucking industry about replacing paper logbooks with electronic ones. This debate pits smaller trucking companies against the larger carriers.

The larger carriers tend to favor a government-mandated transition to electronic logbooks. In part, this is because the larger carriers suspect that many of the smaller carriers are more likely than their bigger competitors to falsify driver logs. Federal regulations limit drivers to 11 hours driven per day, and use of electronic logbooks would make lack of compliance with that standard — and the resulting driver fatigue — tougher to conceal.

Smaller trucking companies and independent truckers are generally opposed to more government regulation. They are concerned that electronic onboard recorders (EOBR) would add costs without necessarily improving public safety.

Even if the government does not move quickly to require onboard recorders, change is coming. As more companies make the transition to electronic logs, more evidence will be available for plaintiff's attorneys to obtain through discovery.

Cell Phone Forensics
Cell phone records can be used in court to show exactly where someone was and whom they were talking with at a particular time. Given the nature of cell phone technology — in which the signal is constantly being routed to the nearest cell tower — someone's location can be pinpointed very closely. And there will also be a record of who was on the other end of the conversation.

Cell phone forensics allows one to use these records to get at the truth of what happened. If a truck driver recorded in a paper log a check-in at a motel for the night at a certain time, cell phone records could show the trucker was actually still on the road, talking with someone on the phone. Some cell phones now come with GPS technology, which allows for locations to be pinpointed even more precisely.

Generating Records, 24 Hours a Day
Sophisticated software now exists to assign drivers, tractors, trailers and cargo to each load carried. To keep the wheels of commerce running, electronic transponders installed in commercial vehicles enable drivers to deliver at any time without a human worker present to open the gates or sign for the goods. Security cameras supply a second level of documentation for the arrival and delivery data.

Data from these computerized dispatch and delivery programs can help a plaintiff's lawyer make the case for liability against a trucking company. For example, the data might show that the driver did not spend the standard amount of time at the loading dock before leaving with a new load. This may be evidence that the truck wasn't loaded properly.

Computer Simulations at Trial
Law is a profession in which traditions are valued, but legal procedures must also evolve with the times. The use of computer simulations at trial is one example. Using computer simulations at trial is often the best way to tell a plaintiff's story to the jury.

One aspect of this is accident reconstruction and visibility studies. By the time a truck accident case is ready for trial, the accident scene has usually been considerably altered. A computer simulation allows for a clear consideration of the causal factors, in a way juries can understand. Courts are inclined to permit this, as long as witness testimony shows that the scene depicted in the simulation is substantially similar to the accident scene at the time the accident occurred.

Technological change is a given, and creative plaintiff's attorneys are finding new ways to use it to tell their clients' stories.


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