Formal loss reporting plans will leave nothing to chance

by Kevin Cole

Time is a precious commodity, and it begins to slip away as soon as a collision occurs. Marks and skids in the road begin to fade away, witnesses disappear down the highway and every detail becomes a little harder to recall. They are delays which can carry a heavy cost. Without all the facts, carriers can be powerless to defend against excessive repair bills to address “minor” damage, or the surprising claims that can emerge after victims have the time to contact a personal injury lawyer.

But a formal loss reporting plan will outline all of the steps that should be followed as soon as a call is made from a crash scene. Consider these related details that can be offered to frantic callers:

Remain calm: As bad as a situation appears to be, it could be worse. Drivers need to be aware of surrounding dangers when leaving the cab, use flashers and flares to ensure that other drivers do not crash into the stopped vehicles, and call for emergency services such as an ambulance. Minor spills should also be contained before they have the chance to spread into a sewer or nearby waterway.

Keep connected: One of the best ways to protect the line of communication is to collect the number of the phone that a driver is using. They may be calling from a pay phone or someone else’s cell phone in the chaos of a crash scene.

Gather the information: A formal loss reporting kit in the truck cab can identify important details that need to be collected on site. The simple forms include space to record the time and location of the crash, the direction of travel and speed just before the collision, road and weather conditions, and the presence of any traffic controls.

Get the numbers: Some details will need to be collected in the hours, days or weeks to follow. Facts such as licence plates, officer badge numbers, and the contact information for any witnesses or third parties will be helpful and expedite the investigation to come.

Draw the details: A picture can be worth a thousand words, and this is particularly true when trying to describe important details about a collision scene. Drivers can complete a simple diagram to show the truck’s position before impact, at the point of impact and the final resting point, as well as where other vehicles were at each moment in time.

Take plenty of pictures: A simple digital camera can offer clear details about the scene of the collision as well as any damage to equipment and cargo. Wide shots should show road conditions and where all the vehicles are sitting. Close-up pictures of any damage can add a sense of scale if they include a common object such as a $5 bill. The camera can even show where damage does not exist, particularly if someone makes a claim about an issue that the driver did not see. Always tend to those that are injured, never take photographs while injured persons are still present at the loss scene.

Be careful about what you share: While drivers need to answer questions from police officers, their fleet representatives or insurers, they should be wary about sharing details with anyone else. Always confirm the identity of the person you are speaking with. This is not the time to admit fault or apologize. The facts will determine how the situation actually unfolded.

Protect the evidence: Under a legal concept known as spoliation, anyone who fails to preserve evidence can be assumed to be trying to hide their guilt. Something as simple as removing debris from the road may hinder the work of an accident reconstruction expert.

Take a break: Drivers face a higher risk of being involved in yet another crash if they resume their trips too quickly. Fleet personnel should have the chance to make sure everyone is free of injuries, that equipment can be safely operated, and that all the details are in hand.  It is not acceptable to attempt to evaluate a driver’s condition over the telephone – a proper evaluation completed in person is required.

Once all of this information is collected, it will need to be filed for future reference. The details around a collision should be kept for up to two years, and can include a number of documents such as the driver’s qualification file, original log sheets, vehicle maintenance and repair records, vehicle registration, pages from the accident reporting kit and satellite records. Documented drug and alcohol tests or dispatch records will offer information about the driver’s condition, while documents like the bill of lading will tell the story of the cargo.

After all, this information is a valuable asset, and it can protect the business for years to come.

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