The Importance of a Spoliation of Evidence Letter in a Truck Accident Case
Just about every business, whether large or small, keeps and maintains business records and other documents. Business documents can come in many forms such as company manuals, emails, logs, spreadsheets, employee files, etc.
Trucking companies are no different. They collect a host of data about their operations and maintain certain records as a part of their normal course of business. Some of this data collection and record-keeping is required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, while in other cases, it's collected and maintained for the trucking company's own use. These business records are often used in lawsuits against trucking companies as evidence to demonstrate the trucking company's compliance (or lack thereof) with industry standards and federal law.
When the trucking company receives notice of your intent to file suit after a crash involving one of their tractor-trailers, they may try to destroy any business records that could reveal their negligence and help your case. The act of destroying evidence in this manner is called spoliation of evidence. Spoliation of evidence is defined as the destruction or significant alteration of evidence or the failure to preserve property for another's use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation. If this happens, there are steps that can be taken to hold the trucking company accountable for destroying evidence, but sometimes this can be difficult to prove.
This is why it is so important to contact the truck accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices as soon as possible after your accident. Our attorneys know what actions to take to help prevent the spoliation of evidence crucial to your case and what to do if the trucking company has already taken steps to destroy it.
Questions answered on this page:
- What is a spoliation of evidence letter and why is it important?
- How do I stop the evidence in my case from being destroyed?
- Do I need a lawyer to preserve evidence in my case?
- What are the consequences for destroying evidence in a truck accident case?
Preventing Spoliation of Evidence
There are already laws and other policies in place to deter or prevent trucking companies from destroying evidence and committing spoliation, yet sometimes the trucking companies consider the evidence so damaging they take the chance and destroy evidence. In addition to the federal law as dictated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, plaintiff's attorneys can intervene and send a notice to the trucking company regarding their duty to preserve certain records after an accident and they can even have the courts intervene by issuing a restraining order.
As mentioned above, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires trucking companies to maintain certain data about its truck drivers, its fleet of trucks, driver logs and accident information for a certain period of time. Failure to do so or destruction of these records is a direct violation of these laws. There is a retention schedule for certain business records outlined in the FMCSA guidelines.
Additionally, the FMCSA guidelines also advise that once litigation is anticipated, any records or information relevant to the litigation should be preserved. The rules also require that the trucking companies take steps to prevent the destruction or alteration of any potentially relevant information. To ensure that they are meeting the requirements of the FMCSA, the trucking companies should stop any normal business practices of purging their records if the commencement of a lawsuit is reasonably anticipated. This means that the trucking company has a duty to preserve the information and documents related to your accident, even if it is their normal practice to delete this information from their records.
Your attorney's best tools - notices to preserve and temporary restraining orders.
The trucking companies are fully aware of their duty to maintain certain records once they have been made aware of your accident with one of their tractor-trailers. However, knowing this duty and complying with it are two different things. If you are handling your claim alone you may find it difficult to understand what information and documents the trucking company must maintain and how to enforce their duty to maintain and supply this information to you.
This is why having the help of experienced truck accident attorneys like those at Grossman Law Offices is so important. We know what steps to take to enforce the trucking company's legal duties to you. There are two effective means to prevent the trucking company from committing spoliation of evidence: written notice and temporary restraining orders.
- Notice to Preserve
Contacting the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices as early as possible after your semi-truck accident is important because there are things we can do to prevent the destruction of evidence needed in your case that are more effective the less time has elapsed since the collision. We can put the trucking company on notice and outline specific documents and files we need them to preserve by sending them a formal written request.
This formal request serves two purposes. First, it puts the trucking company on formal notice of your claim and gives us the opportunity to outline the specific data and information related to the truck and the truck driver that we want the trucking company to preserve. Second, the letter serves as our demonstration to the courts that formal legal notice was provided to the trucking company, and we can use this to support our request for a temporary restraining order against the trucking company for non-compliance with the notice to preserve or if we have to make an actual claim of spoliation of evidence against the trucking company later in the case.
Getting the notice to preserve out to the trucking company as early as possible is crucial to your case and can go a long way towards ensuring we have the evidence necessary to hold them liable for your injuries.
- Temporary Restraining Orders
If, after a reasonable period of time has passed since the legal notice discussed above has been provided to the trucking company, and the information requested is not forthcoming or something happens leading us to believe that the evidence could be lost, our attorneys can file a temporary restraining order issued by the court to compel the trucking company to retain the information or provide to us immediately. Though this option is available, demonstrating a company is attempting to destroy evidence can be difficult, so we seek this option with an abundance of caution and only when absolutely necessary. Seeking a temporary restraining order and being denied by the court might slow down the momentum for your case, so the risk-reward calculus of taking this action will be carefully considered by the attorneys assigned to your case.
Spoliation of evidence - recourse
Though there are federal laws place and attorney actions available to prevent the trucking company from destroying evidence, these measures may not be enough or may be employed too late to be effective. The courts consider spoliation of evidence an abuse of justice. Penalties for discovery abuses can range from monetary sanctions to exclusion of other evidence. If spoliation of evidence has occurred and the trucking company has intentionally destroyed evidence or did not take the appropriate steps to prevent the loss of the evidence there are penalties that the judge can enforce against the trucking company. First, the judge can rule that there is a presumption that the destroyed evidence was negative to the trucking company's position. Second, the judge can hand down "death penalty" sanctions against the trucking company.
- Presumption of Adverse Inference
If the evidence has been willfully destroyed or not preserved by the trucking company and we are able to prove this destruction was a) willful and b) occurred after they had been properly notified of our need for these documents, the judge can rule that there is a presumption of an adverse inference against the trucking company. This means that a jury gets to presume or conclude that the evidence destroyed would have damaged the trucking company's case if introduced at trial. Deleted company emails and records, "lost" driver's logs, and missing drug test results are all prime examples of the type of evidence that, if missing or destroyed, can be presumed to reflect negatively on the trucking company.
Obviously a presumption of this nature is harmful to the trucking company, and you might think they would work harder to keep such a sanction from occurring, but unfortunately they too often don't. Trucking companies roll the dice and destroy evidence because they think they won't get caught or that, even if you do realize they have destroyed the evidence you need, you will not have the legal knowledge or resources to do anything about it. Holding trucking companies accountable for spoliation of evidence can be difficult on your own. Evidence destruction by the trucking companies are not isolated incidents. This happens often enough that having an attorney on your side that knows how to push for the right sanctions against the trucking company can be crucial to your claim. The attorneys at Grossman Law Offices can help you preserve the evidence you need and go after the trucking companies if they destroy it.
- Death Penalty Sanctions
When the judge finds that the trucking company's destruction of evidence was willful or egregious enough he or she may take the additional step of ordering death penalty sanctions against the trucking company's case. Death penalty sanctions are those that essentially end a case. Because these sanctions have such serious consequences, the judge will carefully consider all aspects surrounding the spoliation of the evidence before ordering them to be imposed. Some factors the judge will consider are: the impact the loss of evidence will have on the innocent party, if the evidence can be obtained or reconstructed by other means, the timing of evidence's destruction, the size and structure of the organization involved, and other relevant circumstances.
The judge can even consider whether the trucking company has been sanctioned for discovery abuse in other matters to determine if they have a pattern of willful and knowing destruction of evidence. If the judge does find the trucking company acted in this manner in destroying the evidence, the death penalty sanctions can strip the trucking company of any defense for their liability in the case. If that happens, you have essentially won the case without any further argument, and all that remains is determining the amount of damages the trucking company must pay.
Don't Go It Alone
Proving spoliation of evidence is virtually impossible to do on your own. There are many things that must be proven if you want the court to penalize the trucking company for destroying evidence. Don't put evidence crucial to your case at risk by going it alone. Our attorneys at Grossman Law Offices know how to present what the trucking company has done to a judge in the correct manner, so that their destruction of evidence does not go unpunished. Call us today, toll-free at (855) 326-0000.
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