What should farmers do if one of their trucks is involved in a vehicle collision, and what might they expect if the case goes to court? A new Purdue Extension publication answers those questions, and more.
The Aftermath of a Farm Truck Crash: Lawsuits, Settlements, and Court Proceedings addresses those moments immediately after the crash, being served a court summons and going to trial. The 35-page publication, PPP-95, is a companion resource to the 2011 Purdue Extension publication PPP-91, Farm Truck Accidents: Considering Your Liability Management Options.
Printed copies of either publication are $5 apiece or free for Web download, and available from Purdue's The Education Store . Printed copies also are available at county offices of Purdue Extension.
The Aftermath of a Farm Truck Crash picks up where the earlier publication left off, said Fred Whitford, coordinator of Purdue Pesticide Programs  and the publication's lead author.
"Farm truck accidents are fairly common, but having those events wind up in court is uncommon because most cases are settled out of court by insurance companies and attorneys for both sides," Whitford said. "It's understandable when you consider that the average judgment in a case involving a death is around $5 million. In those kinds of cases, you can lose your farm."
Drawing on true truck crash stories told by farmers themselves and accompanied by accident scene photos, the new publication outlines the proper procedures for reporting accidents to police and insurance companies, and working with attorneys.
"If you end up in court there's going to be things that you would have been expected to do ahead of time," Whitford said. "Having good records of what took place just before and at the time of the accident is always key. If you, a family member or employee has a truck accident, it's important that you or they jot down notes about the incident right then, unless injuries prevent it, because you're going to be deposed at some time in the future. Waiting six months or longer to write down your thoughts of the accident could mean losing important facts."
Farmers likely will be asked by attorneys to produce truck maintenance records and could be called on to justify the annual inspections they conduct on their trucks, Whitford said.
It's also important that farmers know the people who work for them. They don't want to find out in court that the person driving for them has been convicted of alcohol, drug or traffic offenses. Such revelations can turn a case against them, Whitford said.
Other court-related sections in the publication cover testifying under oath, corporation liability, assigning and comparative fault, judgments and appealing verdicts. The appendix features the instructions a judge will give a jury in a typical personal injury case, including the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff and defendant.
"There are many things a farmer can do to increase the odds a jury will find in their favor, but it takes preparation before a crash occurs," Whitford said.
Three attorneys who have worked on agricultural accident cases served as co-authors. They are Brian Drummy of Bloomington, Jim Schrier of Lafayette and David Gunter of Florida.
The publication was funded in part by the Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation.