After a truck accident, you need the truck's maintenance records.
Many truck accidents are caused by a mechanical failure, such as a tire blowout, brake failure, or an engine stall that leaves the truck blocking a roadway. Naturally, when such an accident occurs, one of the most important pieces of evidence in the ensuing case will be the truck's maintenance records. But, it's also worth noting, that even when an accident is not caused by a mechanical failure, an 18-wheeler's maintenance records can still play a vital role in the case. In this article, we'll discuss how a truck's maintenance records are used as evidence by our attorneys to help win cases.
Questions answered on this page:
- What are maintenance records?
- Are commercial trucking companies required to keep detailed records? Do they?
- How can I make sure a trucking company isn't tampering with evidence after an accident?
- How do lawyers get the trucking company's maintenance records? Aren't those documents the property of the trucking company?
- How do lawyers use maintenance records to their client's advantage?
First, let's discuss the obligations that trucking companies have to maintain their fleet.
Commercial trucking companies are required by federal and state law to maintain, inspect, and repair their fleet of vehicles and to keep records of these activities, much the same way that they are required to keep records concerning their driver's backgrounds, etc. However, in the many hundreds of truck accident cases that we've litigated, it's become clear that trucking companies rarely follow this mandate.
To further illustrate how bad most trucking companies are at properly maintaining their vehicles, in a recent inspection by Texas law enforcement agencies conducted over a two-day period, they discovered only four out of sixty commercial trucks were deemed to be completely safe and worthy for the road. The inspectors uncovered everything from simple paperwork errors to major mechanical issues. Some had bad hitching systems and poorly contained cargo and were forced to stay off the roads until these issues were fixed. This was just a sampling of the thousands of commercial trucks that motorists share the roads with on any given day.
How lawyers get maintenance records.
There are a couple of ways. First, we can just ask for them prior to filing suit. Usually, we get told no, but it never hurts to ask. The second way is through a process called discovery, which means that we use the court's authority to request pertinent information from a defendant, and they have to comply. Third, if we feel like the trucking company is hiding the ball or if the matter is time sensitive we can file a subpoena. So while the trucking company will never want to give us unfettered access to their records, we have more than a few ways of getting the information we need. Out of all of the hundreds of trucking accident cases we've handled, not once have we not been able to get the documents we need. Sometimes they put up a real fight, but we always come out on top.
The two ways lawyers use maintenance records as evidence.
In general, when a truck driver causes an accident, they try to find other things to blame the accident on. They'll say the sun was in their eyes, or that they were cut off by another vehicle that fled the scene. Often, they'll blame the driver of the victim by saying that they should have taken better evasive action. But when all else fails and they cant find someone else to blame it on, they can always fall back on the age-old defense of "I didn't mean to, it was just an accident." By getting our hands on the maintenance records (in addition to all of the other records concerning hiring, training, how the trucking company disciplines its drivers for mistakes, etc.), we can usually spot whether or not an accident was actually an isolated incident. But, as you can imagine, that's rarely the case. Most trucking companies who hurt people have a long, sordid track record.
Consider this: We once had a case where a truck driver ran through a stop sign, causing our client to crash into the trailer, nearly killing him. In that case, the trucking company was busted and they knew they'd never be able to deny liability, so they simply defended themselves by saying, "Whoops! It was just a random accident. We're actually a good trucking company."
Well, as we dug into their records, we found that they were about as unsafe as they could possibly be. Their safety manager was working with a suspended license due to multiple DWI arrests, their training and supervision was a joke, and, most germane to this topic, their maintenance records were an absolute mess. In that case, even though it was not alleged that the accident was caused by a mechanical failure, the maintenance records for their vehicles acted as a trail of breadcrumbs that eventually showed us how unorganized the company was, and how it didn't take its responsibilities seriously. As you can see, even when it might not seem like it, getting a trucking company's maintenance records is still incredibly important.
What we look for
First, and most obviously, we look at the truck's maintenance records themselves. We'll want to know exactly how the engine, brakes, tires, etc. had been performing, and if there had been any issues with those components. If anything had been replaced, we'll want to know that, too.
Alternatively, the maintenance records can reveal that the trucking company did everything it was supposed to do in maintaining the brakes, but they failed anyway. This would mean that the trucking company isn't at fault (or as much at fault) as suspected, and that the manufacturer of the truck is to blame for building a defective product. In an instance like this the maintenance records will be important because they can help bolster a claim you may have against the manufacturer of the brakes because they were defective and failed despite the proper care and maintenance performed by the trucking company.
However, the investigation won't end there. It's important to remember that tractor-trailers often haul trailers, and that's something else that we will inspect. Not only will we inspect the vehicle, but we'll also want to inspect the facility at which the vehicle was inspected, as several of these facilities have been caught performing counterfeit inspections in the past. We'll also depose the technician who performed the maintenance, in order to make sure that he's qualified and did his job in the correct manner.
We'll also look at the make and model of the truck involved in the accident, and find out what the specific maintenance requirements for that particular vehicle are. If a truck is supposed to have its brakes changed every 50,000 miles, and the trucking company is only changing them every 100,000, then the company could be considered negligent in the performance of its duties.
Additionally, we'll conduct an extensive interview with the truck's driver so that we can determine if he was aware of any problems his vehicle had before the accident occurred. In several of our investigations, we've found that drivers are often very quick to let their managers know about problems with their trucks, but management can be very slow in getting those problems seen to. This is obviously a problem, and if it turns out management was aware of problems before your accident occurred, it could potentially have an impact on your case.
In yet other cases, trucking companies will have farmed out the maintenance of their vehicles to a third party. If that turns out to be the case, how we would approach that company to obtain those records (as well as our authority to do so) would be different from how we approached the trucking company involved in the accident. This is yet another reason why these records are so important. On one hand, they are a powerful tool against the trucking company when you must demonstrate that the maintenance or lack thereof on their vehicle is directly related to the cause of your injury. On the other hand, the maintenance records can be helpful if we need to expand your claim and go after the manufacturer of the part in question because it was defective, or if we need to go after another company responsible for the repair of the part because they failed to repair it properly. The maintenance records are the paper trail that can lead straight to success in your injury claim against the commercial trucking company. As such, their importance can't be overstated.
If, in the end, our investigation finds that a trucking company hasn't kept good records concerning all of these things, that will tell a jury just how little they care about following the rules.
Do trucking companies ever tamper with evidence?
As we've said, even though trucking companies are required by federal law to inspect and maintain their fleet and retain the records of these activities, they often do not. Sometimes, if a trucking company does have these records but discovers that they could prove their liability or produce a negative outcome for them, the trucking company will alter or destroy the records to make it more difficult for you to prove your case. At this point, in order to help to ensure that the trucking company does not alter or destroy their maintenance records, sending spoliation correspondence is critical.
Spoliation correspondence is a notice that instructs the trucking company on its duty to maintain its records and advises them on the records that your attorney will need to have them produce for review. This is why it's so important to have an experienced attorney on your side. Our attorney will know what evidence to gather and what legal notices can be filed to prevent the trucking company from destroying the evidence needed in your case. He will understand that trucking companies are not above this unfair and illegal behavior, and will know how to strike back if and when it happens. You can read more about spoliation correspondence in truck accident cases here.
Only an experienced, thorough attorney knows how to find the evidence you need.
When you take on commercial trucking companies and their attorneys alone, you put yourself at a disadvantage. While the majority of people out there have no experience dealing with an accident like this, trucking companies and their lawyers have plenty. They've dealt with claims just like yours, and they know how to manipulate and bully victims into accepting considerably less than their claim is worth, or simply pay them nothing at all. They have been known to alter and destroy maintenance records, refuse to cooperate with discovery requests, or even deny the existence of certain types of evidence.
Our lawyers at Grossman Law Offices know how the trucking companies and their lawyers will try to circumvent the law and stop your claim from being successful. We have spent over twenty years litigating these claims and we know how to be successful for our clients. Call our toll-free number at (855) 326-0000 to speak with an attorney about your case today.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
- How Accidents Caused by Bucket Trucks Work
- Understanding Weight Restrictions and Commercial Trucks
- 18-Wheeler Accidents Caused by a Mechanical Failure Are More Complex than You Think