Are You Ready?

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You’re a football coach. Your team has the ball on the opposing 2 yard line. There are 15 seconds left. You need a touchdown to win. That is not the time draw up a play, decide who will run the play, and then find those players on the bench.

It’s 3:00 a.m. and your phone rings. There has been and accident. Someone has died. That is not the time to draw up an emergency response plan, decide what response professionals you will use, and then try to find them in the middle of the night.

The sad reality of our industry is that accidents will occur. Many of those accidents will result in a law suit regardless of the facts. Too many in today’s world view the situation as “hit a truck, get a check.” They look at your units as 18 wheel ATM machines.

However, we have an advantage in these situations that no one else possesses—immediacy. No one knows about the accident before we do. We must be prepared to capitalize on advantage by making sure we have a fast and effective response.

The need for a swift and sure action is a matter of logic.
-Accidents result in claims;
-Claims that are not resolved result in a trial;
-The best trial results are achieved by those that are best prepared;
-The best prepared are those that have the best command of the facts;
-The best command of the facts is achieved by those who take immediate action;
-Effective immediate action requires prior preparation.

You need to be ready for “the call.” You need to prepare now for the emergency when it arises.
First, develop an emergency response plan. Determine who will take “the call” and ensure there is 24/7 coverage. Decide how “the call” will be handled within your company. Have a checklist for your personnel as to the information needed from and instructions to the driver who is undoubtedly shaken by the event.

Second, determine what professionals you need to engage. An accident reconstructionist, independent adjuster, and attorney are the common denominator for most accidents. Other potential professionals should be considered based upon your equipment and loads.

Third, choose the specific professionals with whom you will work. Now, before the urgency of the emergency, is the time to check their qualifications, their knowledge of and experience in their specialty and our industry, and check references. Most importantly, are they trial tested. Talk to them and make sure you are confident in their ability and comfortable with their style. Then make sure you have the ability to reach them 24/7.

Fourth, prepare with the professionals. Learn from them the information they will need to effectively respond and which they would want obtained and preserved after the accident. Educate them on your operation. What type of engines do you run so they can prepare for the ECM preservation and download? Do you use a satellite positioning system? Drivecams? The more information that is exchanged today, the less you need to do at the time of the accident.

Fifth, put all the pieces together and have a run through. From “the call” to the conclusion, it is better to find flaws in a dry run then in the fog of the emergency.

Sixth, train your drivers. Make sure they know what they need to do to protect themselves as well as the company.

Remind them to be calm and courteous. Their job is not to pass judgments, but deal with the facts. More importantly, remind them to be quiet. They can talk themselves into trouble far more times than out of trouble.

Ron White said that when he was pulled over for drinking-and-driving, he knew that he had the right to remain silent—he just lacked the ability to do so. Your drivers have the ability to do so. They need to provide the most basic information—license, insurance, and a brief description of the accident. Period.

Teach them how to document the evidence. Get the names, addresses, and cell numbers of witnesses. Don’t assume that they will be on the police report. Even if they stay around, there is a good chance that they may not make the report.

Emphasize the need for photographs. Take the entirety of the vehicles, even the areas that are not damaged. Take an overview of the scene. Photograph physical evidence such as skid marks or areas of debris. Also get pictures of the license plates of potential witnesses.

Out of respect and decency, do not photograph those who are injured. However, discrete photographs of a smiling, uninjured occupant of the other vehicle can be invaluable when there is a later claim of debilitating injuries.

I would be glad to email you templates for these documents in a Word format and send a DVD providing more detail on the preparation and driver training.

Now is the time for you to prepare. Otherwise you will be doing too little, too late.

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Doug Marcello, a shareholder with the law firm of Saxton & Stump and chief legal officer of Bluewire, is a trucking defense attorney with a CDL. He had represented trucking clients across the country, having been specially admitted for cases in 35 states. Doug received the 2018 Leadership Award of the ATA Safety Council.

He has served on the advisory board of the American Trucking Research Institute. Doug is a member of numerous trucking organizations, including a board member of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association and member of the American Trucking Associations Safety Council as well as trucking law organizations including TIDA and Transportation Lawyers. He has written numerous articles concerning trucking safety and defense which can be found at You can also find his interviews and presentation on his YouTube channel and podcast, “TransportCenter”, on iTunes.

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  • Hi Doug,
    Thanks to write an informed and well explained article to manage risk associated with the accidents. As you mentioned they they need to do to protect themselves as well as the company. But they sometimes make wrong comments and create problems, as I had exactly the same situation with one of my driver where just by his comments he himself and we as a company ran into big trouble and finally a law suite.
    In our industry constant education and risk management is the key..!!

    Is this possible that I can get a copy of the same in a Word format & a DVD.

  • A practice run is important. A no notice run would be the most realistic measure of all.

    My company had such a callout Friday afternoon in the Enola area. I was off that day ( but am always reachable by cell) working in my yard. Within one hour we had our Risk Manager , Fleet Safety Director , attorney and recon guy all there. We took 80 photos of a 2 vehicle crash that initially appeared to have sierious injuries.

    With the police having the road blocked off, we had our ” investigation” pretty much done before the county police recon team showed up.

    You can NEVER get too many pictures ! You will never have these two vehicles in the same position ever again. Looking over the other involved vehicle very closely for any potential equipment or other violations may assist in reducing some liability. Photographing things like expired inspection , registration , bald tires , alcoholic beverage containers inside of the vehicle etc can be very important. Even taking pictures of the other driver / passengers ( perhaps doing so they aren’t aware ) would be a good idea.

    Lastly , make sure you gets pictures of ALL sides of every vehicle , even if they are undamaged. This is so they dont later make a claim of damage and then you realize that you have no photos to refute this claim.

  • Hi Doug,

    Thank you for this article and others in the series. As a manager of a small fleet you have opened my eyes to the “liability” of not having a proven and detailed post accident plan. Unfortunately I am presently researching an new action plan to be better prepared for the next “call”. A continuous focus on driver and vehicle safety is still my priority but I must be more prepared to protect my company and drivers from this type of claim.

    If still possible could I receive the word documents and DVD