OTA Dispatch Issue 1 2020

24 Oregon Trucking Associations, Inc. Oregon Truck Dispatch A WELL-REGARDED CAVALRY commander in the Civil War, albeit for the losing side, explained his string of battlefield successes by proclaiming simply that he struck “fustest with the mostest.” Oddly enough, that homey and grammatically tortured maxim has direct application to trucking accidents involving serious injuries, death, or significant property damage. Unfortunately, in many cases of truck- involved crashes, it’s an automatic assumption that the truck is at fault. More often than not, the insurance or trucking companies who promptly dispatch investigators and accident reconstruction experts under the guidance and supervision of attorneys to serious accidents benefit themselves immeasurably when the inevitable claims or lawsuits arise months or even years later. Rapid response to a serious accident enables the company to interview witnesses while their recollections are fresh; to counsel emotionally distraught drivers that are frequently prone to make damning and even incriminating concessions; to locate, document, and preserve forensic evidence at the scene; and to provide meaningful advice to the company regarding how best to proceed going forward. All this may seem like a blatant attempt to solicit legal work for the author or other defense lawyers, but the evidence is compelling that engaging in proactive accident responses pays substantial dividends in the long run. Including an attorney on your incident response team may, at first, seem like an unnecessary expense; however, based on decades of defending trucking and motor coach carriers in countless cases involving catastrophic injuries and death, I can state unequivocally that the initial short- term, relatively modest costs of dispatching to accident scenes experienced transportation defense attorneys and their teams of experts and investigators far outweighs the significant costs of later defending claims or suits in which an inadequate or incomplete investigation was done or worse, no rapid response occurs at all. Unfortunately, in recent years local and state law enforcement agencies have cut back, laid off, or “early retired” their most experienced, capable, trained accident reconstruction officers. As a result, those who do respond often lack the expertise to know what evidence should be preserved, are motivated to reach early judgments regarding who is at fault (again, frequently the truck driver), and obtain superficial, inaccurate witness statements. Worse, a number of law enforcement agencies are prone to issue citations, often against commercial drivers, due to pressure from their superiors. The adverse consequences of a guilty plea or court decision can have long term adverse effects on a driver retaining his job or his CDL. As suppositions are made on scene and investigators work quickly, sometimes too quickly, to gather information and clear the crash, valuable eyewitness testimony can be overlooked. Did the behavior of the other drivers involved contribute to the accident? What type of forensic evidence can be preserved? Were there other contributing factors? These are the areas that, even if the truck driver is ultimately responsible, can make a difference in a settlement. Two past cases stand out for me. Example one, a truck driver did not properly secure a hand truck to his tractor behind the cab. It came loose, bouncing along the freeway until it lodged beneath a speeding car, sadly killing the car’s driver after he lost control of the vehicle. Yes, the truck driver was at fault in this scenario; however, through the witness statements we gathered at the scene, we discovered the car’s driver was traveling at speeds approaching 100 mph, likely contributing to the resulting accident and leading to a more favorable settlement. Example two, police investigators quickly concluded that a bus driver made an unlawful left turn directly across the path of a pickup truck. Our team of an experienced paralegal and veteran accident Law Series