In the third and final blog of our three-part series, Making a Case for Video, we look at litigation and exoneration from the company’s perspective.
If anyone is qualified to talk about the stress that litigation can cause, it’s Brian Kohlwes. Kohlwes is the chief general counsel and vice president of safety for Hirschbach Motor Lines, where he oversees safety and claims for the organization. He’s also an active driver and a former trial lawyer.
Kohlwes grew up in the trucking industry. His father owned and operated a small trucking fleet and Kohlwes financed his college education with his Commercial Driver License (CDL). After college and law school, Kohlwes spent 13 years as a trial lawyer, defending personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, including many cases involving commercial vehicles. His background makes him uniquely qualified to discuss the challenges and pressures facing drivers.
“Drivers are under so much stress,” he said. “When I was a kid, a driver’s only job was to drive the truck, shift gears, and get the load there. Now drivers have to deal with onboard computer systems, federal mandates, operating costs, parking problems and much, much more.” He said that the threat of litigation and false accusations just compound this stress.
“In society, there seems to be the notion that you’re innocent until proven guilty unless you’re a truck driver. Unfortunately, whenever a truck is involved in a collision, more often than not, it’s automatically presumed that the truck driver is at fault. It’s not fair, but it’s the reality we’re faced with.”
That is why video evidence can be so powerful. Video can help exonerate drivers and prevent false claims, ensure the accuracy of police reports, and even help accident reconstruction experts piece together the events that led to a collision.
When a commercial driver is involved in a collision that they didn’t cause, the company may choose to show law enforcement the video clip in order to ensure the accuracy of the police report. This may help to avoid any potential claim from the other party.
During his years as a trial lawyer, Kohlwes said that he was amazed at how many times he heard two completely different versions of the same event presented as evidence. “I don’t think people are necessarily lying. People just perceive and recall things differently when there’s a traumatic event.” And although Hirschbach tends to take the word of their drivers when there’s a collision, he said it’s difficult to determine what actually happened.
That’s why they started looking into a video-based safety solution. “When a collision occurs, it can be difficult to determine who was at fault. Video is the best way to protect our drivers against false accusations.”
When Kohlwes viewed the Lytx DriveCam™ video clip of Michael Lawson, a contract driver for Hirschbach who was featured in the blog Making a Case for Video: Exoneration from the Driver’s Seat, he said his first reaction was that Lawson had saved the other driver’s life. In the clip, Lawson swerved and drove his truck into a ditch to avoid hitting the other vehicle. The second thought that went through Kohlwes’ mind was that, if they hadn’t had video of the incident, it could have cost Lawson his relationship with Hirschbach. “Even worse, if the other driver had been injured or killed, Michael could have faced criminal charges even though it wasn’t his fault.”
As a former trial lawyer, Kohlwes knows that video evidence eliminates uncertainty about the actual version of events in a collision. When faced with irrefutable evidence of the driver’s innocence, the plaintiff’s attorney will often drop the case.
“No one likes being accused of something they didn’t do. Video shows us exactly what happened and when our drivers did everything right. It saves the driver’s reputation, their CDL and livelihood, their pride, and everything they’ve worked for in their life.”