With semi trucks being dangerous for other drivers and passengers, the industry is regulated on both the state and federal level. As part of that regulation trucking companies and drivers are required to fill out certain paperwork and keep certain documents to show their compliance with these regulations. Often this paperwork, and other documents that the trucking company may have, can help prove a plaintiff’s claim, such as by showing that a driver had hours or service violations, that could show driver fatigue, or records showing the truck was not properly maintained, for example.
Whenever an accident occurs it can be important to contact an attorney as soon as practical, for several reasons. One of those reasons is that plaintiff’s counsel will often, when appropriate, send the trucking company what is known as a “spoliation setup letter” which is meant to ensure that none of these documents are destroyed or discarded by the trucking company.
The term “spoliation of evidence” is a legal term which means that a party either destroyed, or failed to preserve, evidence that was related to and necessary as part of contemplated or pending litigation. Once the evidence is gone you obviously can’t get it back, so in certain situations, when a court determines the spoliation was done in bad faith and has prejudiced the other party’s case certain sanctions or evidentiary presumptions may be imposed.
There have been instances where defendants have shredded or altered documents. However, a more common issue is defendant throwing out papers when the minimum amount of time has passed for document retention under regulations, claiming they did not realize the information would be relevant in threatened or pending litigation.
The minimum about of time under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for retaining document may, unfortunately, be shorter than what is even needed to file or complete some trucking accident litigation. Therefore, explicitly requesting that the company retain certain documents relevant to the trucking accident in a spoliation set up letter can ensure there is no argument that the trucking company did not realize what they were throwing away was important to the issues in the case.
Although most commonly it is a defendant who is accused of spoliation, there are times when trucking accident victims inadvertently may harm the ability to prove their own case by throwing away or not retaining certain documents or physical evidence relevant to the trucking accident. In addition, as technology has advanced so rapidly more data can be gathered from these devices that can help prove the plaintiff’s case from both defendant and plaintiff’s electronics records.
An experienced attorney can help plaintiffs ensure they keep all the right kinds of paperwork themselves and request and properly analyze all electronic data from defendant or from plaintiff’s own electronic equipment. Here are some examples of documents or technology that may be appropriate to keep or examine, depending on the circumstances of the case, that are not always considered by plaintiffs:
Starr Austen and Miller focuses on representing individuals and their family members in serious personal injury and wrongful death cases, such as those often involved in trucking accidents. If you or a loved one has been in a truck accident you can contact us for a free consultation to discuss your case.