Wheels of Justice
A small accident...
It was just a small accident. No one was hurt. The only thing you did was hit a stop sign during a turn, and you bent it up just a little bit. Not much, nothing that a strong man couldn’t fix just by pushing the sign back up straight. You made the decision to continue down the road, so your vehicle would not block traffic and you could call your company to report that you hit the sign and ask for their assistance. Suddenly you heard the dreaded wail of the police siren and saw the flashing lights.
What’s a driver to do? How should a driver handle these situations when it is just a small property damage accident? What does the law require? What does the carrier require? I guess you really have to start with the most important action and that would be the law of the city, county and state where the accident occurred.
The consequences of leaving the scene of an accident or failing to report one is similar in most places but enforced differently in just about every jurisdiction to some extent. In most instances, a simple accident like the one described above, enforcement depends upon the amount of damage that occurred as well as the driver’s attitude toward the officer on the scene. Did the driver stop? Did he stop within a reasonable time and distance from the accident? Or did the officer have to chase him down? Leaving the scene of an accident is a major CDL violation.
When a driver calls my national law firm for assistance in these types of accidents, we look at our computer base of the more than 100,000 CDL cases we have handled to see how that particular prosecutor and judge have resolved similar cases in the past. Then we seek to defend the driver so he doesn’t have to appear before the judge and attempt to keep this violation off his record.
The larger the accident, the more important it is for the company to be notified immediately. If there is personal injury or, God forbid, even a fatality involved, then the company should not only send an adjuster to the scene, they should also consider sending an attorney so the information collected at the scene is given directly to the attorney. It can then be protected by two separate shields, the “attorney work product” and the “attorney client privilege.” These two defense shields can save the driver and the carrier lots of time and money.
In my next article, I’ll look at what you should do in a major accident, one with serious physical injury or death.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., an organization that provides legal defense protection to commercial drivers. Jim is a lawyer who focuses on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking, and he holds his Commercial Drivers License.