When trucking or commercial vehicle accidents occur, there is a substantial likelihood of property damage, personal injury, and potential catastrophic harm to drivers, passengers, or pedestrians. When there is a question of fault involved, competing interests between the injured parties, the insurance carriers, and law enforcement will undoubtedly arise. Drivers and their employers may face both civil and criminal litigation contemporaneously. Therefore, the company’s driver and counsel for the trucking company must carefully consider their defense strategy immediately following any accident to protect the varying interests of all involved.
Criminal charges arising from trucking or commercial vehicle accidents can range from minor to severe, varying from marked lane violations, speeding, exceeding allowable weight limits, to vehicular homicide charges. By way of example, MG+M attorneys defended a trucking operator (and parent corporation) when a driver inadvertently struck a tow truck operator who was assisting a disabled vehicle on the Massachusetts Turnpike, resulting in the death of the tow truck operator. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts charged the driver with motor vehicle homicide by negligent driving, among other charges, and shortly thereafter, representatives on behalf of the deceased tow truck operator filed a civil complaint against the truck driver and his employer (for vicarious liability), alleging wrongful death as well. The civil case resolved following a successful mediation with no personal or excess exposure. Diligent and careful cooperation between the civil and criminal defense teams beginning from the time of the crash led to this favorable outcome.
As MG+M’s first-hand experience demonstrates, the best protection for the interests of the driver and company arises from the criminal and civil defense team working together as soon as possible to align the parties’ defenses and to assess all available evidence. While it is anticipated that police and other governmental teams will respond to a trucking accident, it is imperative the driver and/or corporation retain counsel as quickly as possible so that representatives can visit the scene. Defendants should reasonably anticipate that reports from the scene, as well as accident reconstruction and other investigative reports, will become evidence in both civil and criminal cases.
Typically, criminal cases against a driver will proceed before a civil trial, and the outcome of a criminal case can have significant implications in the civil matter. If a judge or jury convicts the driver in a criminal proceeding, the chances of successfully defending a civil case lessen. Practically speaking, much of the criminal evidence is not likely to be available until the criminal case resolves. Therefore, the criminal and civil defense attorneys must communicate about the defendant’s case, share concerns when they exist, and share non-privileged documents and evidence where appropriate. In addition, to the extent the civil matter proceeds ahead of the pending criminal matter, significant time must be set aside to assist in discovery responses and to prepare for deposition so that the driver’s criminal rights are not negatively impacted.
Unfortunately, when trucking accidents occur, there are competing interests. The best way to protect your driver and corporation is to ensure counsel is well versed on the details of your fleet, your corporate policies and practices, and is ready to deploy to protect your business. When faced with criminal and civil overlap, it is also imperative that criminal counsel is retained quickly, that the lines of communication between criminal and civil counsel remain open, and that defense strategies are considered for both pending cases.