Video evidence emerging as trump card in lawsuits
Consider this, you’re driving down the road and you hear a loud noise. A motorist just crashed into the back of your truck and was killed. Eyewitness testimony states that you swerved out of your lane and into the motorist’s lane putting you squarely at-fault for the crash. If it goes to trial, it’s highly likely that a jury will find you responsible for the crash and award policy limits to the claimant. If you’re a driver of a larger company, the award could be in the hundreds of millions.
This is a real and active scenario playing out in the state of Florida (Wilsonart, LLC vs the estate of Jon Lopez). However in this case the truck driver had a dashcam that was recording at the time of the crash which contradicts the eyewitness testimony.
In-vehicle dashcams are becoming more commonplace with private motorists and commercial truckers should be weighing the decision to do the same. We’ve all seen first-hand the ability of video evidence (VE) to change/shape opinions such as with the high-profile death of George Floyd and they can help in accident scenes (like the one above) as well.
Evidence in a courtroom is what wins cases and VE is the Ace in the deck. VE can show and often prove fault or innocence instead of simply your word against theirs or in this case false testimony. VE cuts down on fraudulent claims that increase premiums, hurt your loss ratio and your ability to work. VE can also give your insurance company added reason to fight your case in court rather than simply settling the claim without a trial.
In the case above, the judge initially handed down summary judgement (without a trial) in favor of the trucker because of the VE. The dashcam video was presented showing that the driver maintained a straight line of travel and did not swerve into another lane rendering the eyewitness testimony as incompetent evidence. The judge later reversed his decision based on an appeal by the Lopez estate claiming a jury should decide the legitimacy of their witness and expert testimony. However, in the absence of the VE, the trucker would have likely been found 100% at-fault.
This and many other scenarios can be challenged with VE and we feel you should have that tool in your toolbox. For less than $200 you can have a camera installed in your vehicle. Be sure that any camera you purchase has the ability to time/date stamp the video and offers a continuous recording feature. If you do install camera(s), be sure to take action on critical events. If you don’t utilize that data properly, lawyers can use that against you in court.
Trailer underride guards, while improved, did not pass the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) critical 30% test. According to the IIHS, trailer underride guards on modern trailers do a pretty good job at keeping vehicles from sliding underneath them, but primarily when the crash occurs directly behind the trailer. IIHS tests show that when a vehicle strikes a portion of the trailer (overlap), most trailers fail to prevent potentially deadly underrides.
In a IIHS study of 115 crashes in which a passenger vehicle struck the back of a heavy truck or semitrailer, results showed that 80% were underrides. Of those crashes involving underride, 82% were fatalities; about half of those with severe underride had overlaps of 50% or less.
IIHS engineers most recently crash-tested trailers from eight of the largest manufacturers. In each test, a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu struck a parked tractor-trailer at 35 mph. When the car was aimed at the center of the trailer, all successfully prevented the underride. When the mid-point of the car struck the trailer edge, only one guard failed to prevent the underride. However, when the portion of the vehicle striking the trailer was reduced to 30%, all but one failed. The 30% overlap is used by the IIHS for testing because it is the minimum overlap under which a passenger vehicle occupant’s head is likely to strike a trailer in an underride guard failure. It is important to note that in successful tests where the guards held up, the Malibu’s structure and airbags protected the dummy.
Earlier test results from the IIHS showed that the size and strength of the guards were inadequate leading the IIHS to petition the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2011 for tougher standards. In that set of tests, IIHS engineers crash-tested trailers from three manufacturers (Hyundai, Vangard and Wabash). The Hyundai trailer failed all tests. Vangard failed the 50% and 30% tests while the Wabash trailer failed the 30% test.
Since 2007, under Canadian regulation, a guard must withstand about twice as much force at the point where it attaches to its vertical support compared to the U.S. rule. It’s encouraging to note that while NHTSA has not issued any additional requirements on trailer underride guards, trailer manufacturers have responded to the IIHS results by installing guards that are much stronger than required. All eight manufacturers now have underride guards meeting the Canadian standard, and none of the current designs had any difficulty passing the full-width test.
According to the IIHS, the location of the guards’ vertical supports appears to be a problem. As the supports are attached to the slider rails which allows the position of the wheels to change depending on the load, the vertical supports are located an average of 28 inches from the trailer’s edge. Manac, a Canadian manufacturer and the only one to pass the 30% test, attaches its guards to a reinforced floor and spaced just 18 inches from the edge.