Destruction of Evidence – Spoliation in the Trucking Industry

On Behalf of | Dec 11, 2017 | Personal Injury, Semi Truck Accidents, Vehicle Accidents, Wrongful Death

Trucking companies are required to keep certain records for a specific period of time prescribed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FCMCA).  The FMCSA Regulations specifically list categories of records and specific documents that motor carriers must keep and strict rules on how long the information must be preserved.  Pursuant to the FMCSA, categories of items that must be preserved by motor carriers include:

1.      Corporate and General;

2.      Treasury;

3.      Financial and Accounting;

4.      Property and Equipment;

5.      Personnel and Payroll records;

6.      Insurance and claims records;

7.      Taxes;

8.      Purchases and stores;

9.      Shipping and Agency Documents;

10.  Transportation; and

11.  Supporting data for reports and statistics.

FMCSA Regulation §379, Preservation of Records.

The requirement to preserve records addresses electronic records as well, indicating that records “may be preserved by any technology that is immune to alteration, modification, or erasure of the underlying data and will enable production of an accurate and unaltered paper copy.”  49 CFR 1220.3.  In today’s technology based world, understanding how to navigate the electronic world of documents is essential.

In addition to the FMCSA regulations, it is standard practice in most industries, including trucking, that when a crash occurs all documentation regarding the crash and those involved in it be preserved.  Just like it is standard practice to preserve the vehicles involved, the documents and records should be preserved.  Tractor trailer companies are well aware of their obligation to preserve this critical evidence and failure to do so makes them subject to a motion for sanctions due to spoliation.

If you have a claim against a semi-trailer driver or tractor-trailer carrier, understanding what documents exist and their importance is the first step in obtaining supporting documentation for your case.  Obtaining these important records is crucial to prove your case, however, big rig carriers may adamantly refuse to produce certain information and documents you are lawfully entitled to discover.  Such a refusal creates an unfair advantage for the tractor-trailer driver or company against the victim in litigation and is unlawful.  Paoli Law Firm has extensive experience in identifying useful documents and obtaining records.  We are experts in Montana law addressing the requirement for motor carriers to produce documents they would rather not, and in many cases, refuse to produce, which is referred to as spoliation of evidence.  Spoliation of evidence is the intentional, reckless, or negligent withholding, alteration or destruction of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding or that may be used in a foreseeable litigation.

Caught in the Act – Spoliation

In Parrick v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., a wrongful death case, FedEx Ground refused to produce important information including its applicable policies, out-of-service violations, trip reports, and personnel file documents.  Paoli Law Firm brought the matter before the Court and FedEx Ground was ordered to produce the documents sought by Paoli Law Firm.  In direct violation of the Court’s order, FedEx Ground continued to refuse to produce the documents.  Paoli Law Firm diligently continued our efforts on behalf of our clients.  The Court found “Defendants’ failure to produce the discovery as ordered by the Court suggests that the materials sought contained evidence adverse to Defendants.”  Ultimately, Paoli Law Firm prevailed on behalf of our clients and the Court granted our clients several adverse inference instructions to punish FedEx Ground for its wrongful conduct, deter it from similar conduct in the future, and to restore fairness to our clients. As an additional punishment, the Court also precluded FedEx Ground from offering evidence at trial that had not been provided to our clients.

A similar order was issued in Peschel v. City of Missoula, a case where Paoli Law Firm represented the plaintiff for personal injuries he suffered as a result of the City of Missoula Police Department use of excessive force.  In Peschel v. City of Missoula, the police department failed to preserve the videotape of the arrest.  The court sanctioned the City of Missoula for its failure to preserve this important evidence, and held as a matter of law that the officers used unreasonable force against our client, essentially granting summary judgment to our client on this matter.

In addition to the case of Parrick v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., referenced above, in another more recent case against FedEx Ground, Paoli Law Firm uncovered that FedEx Ground destroyed or spoliated many important documents including drivers’ log books and the very contract – operating agreement – between FedEx Ground and its contractor which detailed specific provisions and obligations of the parties.  Again, on behalf of our clients, Paoli Law Firm brought this matter before the Court and FedEx Ground was ordered to produce documents sought or be subject to spoliation sanctions.

Ensuring and verifying that motor carriers abide by the FMCSA Regulations and recordkeeping requirements is a critical piece of ensuring the roadways of our country are safe for everyone.  Discovering the information that lies beneath the surface may reveal additional negligence of the motor carrier and/or driver that will help your case or provide the evidence necessary to allow the jury to consider punitive damages.  When trucking companies fail or are lax in enforcing the FMCSA regulations, inevitably, innocent people are seriously injured or killed.

If you are the victim of crash caused by a tractor-trailer rig, call us today at 406-542-3330 to see how Paoli Law Firm can help you obtain all of the information you are entitled to.