Black boxes don’t really exist as such anymore. But for purposes of this blog, I use the term as the main source of information about the truck and its journey. These systems can show how a truck was operating, its speed and any braking that occurred in the moments before a serious crash. These systems are now often equipped with global positioning systems.
For lawyers who help the victims of serious truck accidents, “black boxes” can be a key element in proving negligence, violations in such things as hours of service, and other aspects of liability in your trucking cases.
These black boxes are also used to track vehicle maintenance issues, such as tire pressure. They can track truck driver performance, such as sudden brake applications, speed control, following distance and even exceeding regulated hours. They sometimes can contain e-mail exchanges between the truck driver and the motor carrier, dispatcher, or safety director, which in many of my own cases has led to astounding discoveries of mechanical problems, truck driver fatigue and pressure by the company on the hapless truck driver to violate mandatory safety rules and regulations – often at the threat of his or her job.
The data that can be obtained from a black box varies widely from model to model. But in most instances, the computer records incidents involving hard braking, engine RPMs and whether the clutch was engaged, for example.
Attorneys who litigate serious truck crash cases can also use black box data in a variety of ways throughout litigation. There’s no “one way,” so experienced experts sometimes disagree on the best use of the black box. Also some attorneys disagree on tactically how best to use it – some use it during the driver deposition to pressure settlement, while others choose to hold it for trial.
Below, we’ve outlined several ways you can use the black box to prove your case.
In the deposition:
In any deposition, a lawyer’s examination of the defendant truck driver should include eliciting detailed testimony of his or her actions at and just before the crash. Once the truck driver has given sworn testimony about his or her braking, clutch application and shifting, the lawyer can use the black box data to impeach this testimony.
For truck accident expert witnesses:
The black box data will also be very important to the truck accident expert witnesses. Many experts can prepare computerized animations re-creating the truck accident by using information obtained from a total station reconstruction. By combining the total station data with the information from the black box, experts can verify that the animations are accurate representations of the event. These demonstrative aids are very persuasive and effective tools for proving liability.
To contradict the defense:
The black box data can also be used to contradict defense experts’ opinions. This can be done by showing that their reconstructions are inaccurate, if their opinions are based on assumptions that are inconsistent with the data downloaded from the black box.
How lawyers use black box data depends upon the facts and circumstances of the truck accident case, and your own creativity. Regardless, get the black box data. It is invaluable.