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The Truck Chronicles: Part I
DMA Claims Services (www.dmaclaims.com/bulletproof.shtml) is an independent claims adjusting company that handles many claims for accidents involving truck drivers. Getting into an accident with a big 18-wheeler can be a scary experience, but sometimes the driver of the car will see a big cash register going "cha-ching" in their minds. And many times the settlements in such cases can be huge.
But what if the truck driver wasn't at fault? And worse, what would happen if the Highway Patrol incorrectly said that he was?
This is Part I of "The Truck Chronicles," stories of DMA Claims Services' claims adjusters handling truck accident claims. This one is by Pat Daugherty, a DMA truck adjuster in the 1980's, and subsequently DMA's Seattle branch manager.
The Driver Was Doing What?!?
"All that was left of the Toyota van was the wheels and floor pan. Our driver had come down a long hill in the LA foothills and, after leaving long skid marks, collided with the van in the number 4 lane (slow lane on the right). The tractor and trailer had rolled and suffered severe damage.
"The ambulances were there when I pulled up, but the California Highway Patrol had not arrived. Remarkably the van driver had lived through the impact, one of those rare instances where failure to wear a seat belt saves your life. But he was in critical condition and no one would be taking his statement for awhile.
"Our driver said that there were no brake lights on the van, which he assumed had been stopped on the freeway. Then he was off to the hospital with a broken leg and other injuries and I would get his full statement later.
"About this time the CHP showed up and as often happens, they tried to get rid of me. I am used to that and managed to get my pictures, measurements and what data I could as the sun was coming up. Up to that point it appeared to be a routine, if nasty, truck versus smaller vehicle incident. But as I was leaving I spoke to the lead CHP officer. I don't really mind an attitude - but an unjustified conclusion that our driver was speeding really burned me. The trucking company involved had governors on their engines, and our driver could not speed whether he wanted to or not. But the CHP was not interested in my information, especially since it was in conflict with a decision the lead guy had already made.
"Sometimes you can leave people with false conclusions alone and let them work it out for themselves. But not when you have a million dollar judgment as a consequence. We brought in the accident reconstruction expert and submitted his report based on length of skid marks and estimated speed at impact with a stationary vehicle. The CHP wasn't buying - they had the Toyota going 50 mph at time of impact and our driver doing an imitation of a bullet train, way over the speed limit.
"The CHP's report came out with our driver speeding. The van driver was now represented by a lawyer, and with this report a million dollars was a slam dunk. We had the governor on the engine examined and got a report that it was working. CHP was unimpressed.
"Finally we got a little higher in the CHP hierarchy and began to find people who would at least talk to us, although they were not inclined to overturn the conclusions of the guys at the scene. We got our client to supply us with an identical tractor and trailer with exactly the same weight aboard. In fact they were able to arrange for it to be the tractor next in delivery sequence from the manufacturer, and with the tractor came evidence of that sequence. We managed to persuade a CHP expert to ride in the tractor, and drive the same stretch of road. We had our trucking company rep put the accelerator to the floor on the downhill curve. The thing wouldn't budge over 65 mph. The expert verified it all.
"If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it. The CHP reversed itself on the speeding conclusion, and required all copies of its report to be returned so they could amend it (that included our copy). Now we were better than 50% home on getting this turned around. There remained the question of what the Toyota van was doing on the freeway. Had it been stopped on the freeway as our driver claimed or moving forward as the CHP had thought and as the adverse party was likely to assert?
"The day after the accident I drove to the claimant's address and discovered that the accident had occurred about 50 yards beyond the freeway exit nearest to this guy's house. It suddenly came to me that he had passed his exit, then stopped in the lane without pulling off the freeway.
"I talked with our reconstruction engineer about what could be done to prove my suspicions. He said that the answer would be in the taillights, and he had recovered them and they were currently at the lab being examined. The lab confirmed that the backup lights were on when the impact occurred, proven by the stretched filaments.
"The van had been in reverse and the driver was backing up in the number 4 lane adjoining the right hand shoulder. His exit was in view in his rear view mirror…and then, well, all hell broke loose. Not a driving decision he was likely to repeat when he got back on the road a few months later.
"Of course, this being Los Angeles County, the attorney did not go away, but the threat of a million-dollar claim did. The claim was arbitrated for a relatively minor amount."
Seattle Branch Manager, David Morse & Associates
Look for Part II of the Truck Chronicles coming soon.
About the Author: Tom Reitze is President and CEO of DMA Claims Services (www.dmaclaims.com/bulletproof.shtml), an independent claims adjusting and investigations company with 42 offices in 16 states.