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Black boxes for lawyers: How the black box can dramatically strengthen your truck accident case

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 8th, 2014

black box data to prove your case

In the past five years or so, there’s been a significant spike in the use of Event Data Recorders, commonly known as “black boxes,” among semi-trucks and other commercial vehicles. These black boxes  are known for use in airplanes and determining what went wrong in an airplane crash. But as technology advances, the functionality of the black box has greatly expanded and is included in almost every new car and truck.

Black boxes will be required in all cars by September 2014.

Black boxes can be extremely helpful in a serious truck accident lawsuit. Black box data can provide a truck accident lawyer with valuable  ammunition to build a strong case against a dangerous trucking company that does not care about safety.

Here’s some of the helpful information that can be recovered from a black box in the event of a serious truck accident:

  • ABS breaking activity.
  • Changes in velocity. This is especially helpful in determining whether a truck driver applied brakes in the moments leading up to a serious truck accident.
  • A wide array of airbag data including deployment time, and whether or not any airbag lights (indicating a malfunction) were on at the time of the crash.
  • Lateral acceleration. Some truck accident lawyers (especially new ones) may ask the question: What is lateral acceleration? That is the acceleration from left to right from driver’s perspective. This is important in side impact crashes (or T-bone crashes) and can be helpful in demonstrating speed, or proving injuries sustained by the force of the impact.
  • Multi-event crash data. This comes into play where there are multiple impacts or multi-vehicles all involved in the same truck accident.
  • Occupant position information. This data can identify whether passengers in the front seats were in proper seating posture, or can identify based upon weight whether the occupant was an adult or a child.
  • Whether or not the safety belts locked, or whether the driver and front-seat-passenger were wearing safety belts at all.
  • A vehicles ground level speed in the moments leading up to impact.
  • If a semi-truck is equipped with dynamic steering technology,  then that data is typically available in the black box.
  • Virtually any directional data that a truck accident lawyer could imagine. The black box records directions travelled, and even changes in the vehicles elevation.

As you can see, there is a huge amount of data to be found in black boxes — especially when the black box is on board a fully loaded semi-truck. And the amount of information can sometimes be daunting for a lawyer when he or she is unfamiliar with how to use this technology in their cases.

To be an effective  lawyer, you the first step is understanding just how much helpful information is available to you from a black box. It is as a valuable tool for building an effective case and achieving the best results possible for your clients.

This list is not exclusive. In fact, this is really only the tip of the iceberg. This list is a great starting point — but the black box can contain far more information that what I have discussed in this short blog post.

Important TIP: Get the black box data as quickly as you can. Make sure that you have an expert analyze it and understand the ramifications. Get those spoliation letters  out as soon as possible so that you do not lose this treasure chest of information that is the black box.

Related information:

FMCSA to release proposal to require electronic logging devices ELD in all trucks

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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