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Wrongful Death Involving Commercial Vehicles (Podcast)

Commercial vehicles have a lot at stake, and some companies may go to great lengths to ensure they are covered in a wrongful death lawsuit. Attorneys Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of Mazow McCullough law firm discuss their approach to wrongful death cases involving commercial vehicles. Listen or read more to find out more.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough at the law firm of Mazow-McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Today we’re talking about wrongful death cases involving commercial vehicles. Robert and Kevin, welcome.

Robert Mazow: Thank you, John.

Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.

John: So, what makes commercial vehicle wrongful death lawsuits different from other types of lawsuits?

Robert: What we see in a wrongful death incident involving a commercial vehicle is that the driver tends to be an employee of the person, or the corporation that owns the vehicle. So, first and foremost, there are at least two parties involved in this lawsuit or in this claim, where, otherwise, in a straightforward car accident or slip-and-fall, there may be just one defendant and one plaintiff.

We need to understand what the relationship is between the driver of the vehicle and the commercial owner of the vehicle. We need to know whether they were on the clock at the time, where they were going, where they were coming from, whether they should have been not driving at the time, what their driving history is, what their criminal history might be, and whether or not the employer who owns the vehicle or owns the truck has done a proper background check to make sure that that driver should be behind that wheel.

Claims that we’re going to be looking at are going to be involved with not just negligence, but negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision. I mean, all things that go into the responsibility of the commercial owner of that vehicle because the employer is responsible for the negligent acts of their employee, and we want to make sure that if they cause harm, if they cause injury, if they cause death that that employer is also held responsible.

Commercial Vehicle Drivers and Distracted Driving

John: Distracted driving is a big factor these days in all types of accidents involving vehicles. Is distracted driving often the cause of a commercial vehicle wrongful death case?

Kevin: It is, John. With a lot of these commercial vehicles, they’re taking advantage of the technology these days as well. They have GPS in the vehicles to track what the employee is doing and where he’s going, but they also have the ability to communicate directly with the employees to give new assignments or to redirect an assignment. That’s causing these employees to take a look at their phone, to take a look at the GPS, to take a look at their responsibilities for that day or that daily worksheet, and to alter what they’re supposed to be doing or where they’re going. Oftentimes, they’re doing that while they’re driving, while they’re stopped at that red light, while they’re stopped at that stop sign — just not paying attention to what’s going on around them. Trying to be a good employee, trying to get to that next job, but by not paying attention to the roadway, ultimately causing injury and incidents.

Robert: This technology that Kevin talks about goes both ways because what we’re finding in bus crashes, in truck crashes, that oftentimes there are videos that the employers have on their employee because they want to make sure that they’re keeping their eye on their employee. There’s video cameras facing in, there’s video cameras facing out. What we’re able to do is — if we can get access to this video, we can actually see these drivers while they’re driving, while they’re stopped at a stop sign, while they’re doing something, looking at their phone, looking at paperwork, doing the very things that their employer claims [they] are not supposed to be doing and that’s what’s causing these crashes. But we’re able to sometimes get access to these videos, which is part of the technology that Kevin was talking about.

Accessing Onboard Video Footage

John: That sounds like that’s a really good reason, if you don’t have any other reason, to hire an attorney because I think that, myself as an average person, I wouldn’t be able to get access to the onboard cameras on a commercial vehicle, but as attorneys you are able to help with that.

Robert: Well, we’re able to help with it. Obviously the employer is not going to be anxious to be giving that to us. So, what we have to do is, if we find out that there are cameras, we go to court, we get the court to compel that that information be given to us. It does take some time, but when you get it and it’s helpful, it’s really the home run of all home runs.

John: Right.

Kevin: You can imagine, John, that if there is video footage that hurts the company, they’re not going to want to give it up. If they have to give it up to a plaintiff’s attorney, they’re going to fight as hard as they can. So, that goes directly to the point that if you’re involved in a collision with a commercial vehicle, you should retain an attorney quickly because there are certain obligations that these companies have to retain video footage or information whether it helps them or not. But, if enough time goes by, they can avoid those obligations and get rid of or destroy the video footage or the documents that may harm them in a way that they won’t be penalized.

But, if you hire an attorney quickly, and you can get involved, simply sending a letter to preserve that material — we’re not saying you have to give it to us right now, Mr. Company, but you have to preserve it and we’re giving you an affirmative obligation to preserve that information. So, when we do move forward and we do actually request it, it should be there. If that material is gone or destroyed at that point, if we’re involved early enough, we can use that to our advantage during the litigation process, whether it’s proving the liability of the case or having the court intervene and take certain defenses off the table for the defendant because they refused or failed to preserve that information. So, like Rob mentioned, it cuts both ways, but getting an attorney early on is only going to help you prove your case and gather that information.

Building a Case Against a Commercial Vehicle Company

John: Okay. What are some other aspects of going up against a large company? Maybe you’ve been injured or a family member has been killed in an accident involving a nationwide trucking company or a nationwide delivery service, or something like that. How does that change the overall dynamic of a case?

Robert: I mean, we tend to see, if it’s a large company, we tend to see a large defense firm representing them. These companies don’t want to have judgments against them, they don’t want to have to pay out large settlements or large judgments, so they’re going to do what they need to do, or what they feel they need to do to aggressively defend themselves. Of course, if you’ve got the right plaintiff’s attorney, they’re going to be able to go toe-to-toe with the defensive attorneys, with the insurance companies to hopefully obtain a good result for the injured party.

John: All right. That’s really great information. Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.

Kevin: Thanks, John.

Robert: Thank you, John.

John: For more information on personal injury cases and wrongful death cases visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call 855-693-9084.

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