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Black Box Data: Smoking Gun in Trucking Accident Litigation

When passenger vehicles collide with large commercial trucks, the probability of occupants in the passenger car, truck or SUV suffer significant injury is much higher than in collisions involving two passenger vehicles.  Our Miami truck accident lawyers find that a key reason for the increased risk of catastrophic injury or death is the massive weight disparity between the vehicles.  While a typical passenger car might weigh 3,000 pounds, large big-rigs transporting a full load can weigh 80,000 pounds, which amounts to a weight disparity of 26 times.

Although semis constitute a relatively small percentage of the total vehicles traveling Florida roadways, they account for a disproportionate number of traffic-related injuries and fatalities.  A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report indicates that 102,000 people experienced injuries in trucking accidents during 2012.  Further, this total represents an 18 percent increase over the number of injuries suffered in trucking accidents the prior year, which does not bode well for safety improvements in the trucking industry.  Trucking accident fatalities also increased during the same period from 3,781 to 3,921, which amounts to a 4 percent increase.

When dangerous big-rig collisions occur, the occupants of passenger vehicles are much more likely to suffer life-altering injuries and death according to the NHTSA.  Passenger vehicle occupants, pedestrians, bystanders, and cyclists accounted for 76 percent of those injured, and they accounted for 83 percent of trucking accident fatalities.  Put another way, the occupants of the other vehicle or non-vehicle occupants are three times as likely to suffer injury and four times more likely to die in a truck collision than the operator of a semi.

These sobering statistics make it important for individuals injured in trucking collisions to understand the challenges associated with proving liability in trucking litigation.  While many types of evidence are essential when pursuing a trucking accident lawsuit, the truck’s Electronic Control Module (ECM) (also called the “Black Box”) often constitutes a smoking gun by providing critical evidence of regulatory violations, improper maintenance, or other unsafe driving practices.

Understanding the Electronic Control Module (“Black Box”)

Most large trucks manufactured in the United States since the 1990’s are equipped with an ECM.  These electronic data storage devices are similar to black boxes on commercial airlines.  The devices are able to record a wide range of data over a period of time.  The types of information that can be preserved by the black box include maximum speed, air bag performance, revolutions per minute (RPMs), average speed, duration of time over 65 mph, idling time, and seat belt usage to note a few examples.

These electronic data recorders were originally created to facilitate the ability of semi manufacturers to identify purchaser abuse to defend against warranty claims.  However, our experienced Florida Semi Accident Lawyers often use factual data stored in ECMs to expose factors that contribute to a commercial truck collision.  We might use the device to investigate big-rig speed immediately prior to the crash, hard stops, and RPMs immediately prior to the crash.  Since the black box also stores usage data, this information can be used to verify the driver log book and expose manipulated and false entries that reveal hours of service violations.

Time Is of the Essence in Avoiding the Loss of ECM Data

Black boxes come equipped with limited storage that often amounts to thirty days though it can shorter depending on the year the vehicle was manufactured.  The storage capacity might be exceeded quickly if the vehicle is promptly placed back in service.  Once the storage capacity has been exceeded, the device will begin recording over previously stored data.

Our Florida Trucking Accident Attorneys will either negotiate an agreement to ensure the data is preserved or send a spoliation letter indicating that the information on the black box is the subject of litigation and must be preserved.  The spoliation letter will advise the commercial carrier that erasing, altering or otherwise destroying the black box data will subject the commercial carrier to sanctions.  There are multiple types of sanctions that can be imposed for spoliation of evidence, such as attorney fee sanctions or evidentiary sanctions.  Attorney fee sanctions involves the judge requiring the trucking company to pay a portion of the plaintiff’s attorney fees while evidentiary sanctions can result in the jury being instructed to assume altered or destroyed evidence was favorable to the plaintiff on a particular issue.  In some situations, we might file for an immediate protective order from the judge.

Greenberg Stone and Urbano:  Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence 

If you or your family member has been injured in a Miami semi crash, our Florida Trucking Attorneys at Greenberg Stone and Urbano will tenaciously pursue the full compensation you deserve.  For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida.  We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.  Our skill and dedication has earned us an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald.   Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.



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