As almost everyone is aware, virtually all businesses, large and small, keep a lot of documents and business records on file. This is especially true of trucking companies, who are required to keep a wide variety of records by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), as well as a number of other documents they keep just as part of the regular course of business. These can include a number of company manuals, employee records, maintenance and driver logs, and a number of other documents. Trucking accident claims then of course involve a large volume of paper that only an experienced trial lawyer can correctly sort through.
Trucking Company Record Keeping Practices
Quite often, these records are used by the trucking companies to demonstrate compliance with both industry standards and federal law, but many are not kept forever. In the interests of efficiency, trucking companies routinely purge these records after a reasonable period of time, to save precious space and time. However, because these records can be enormously useful in litigation involving a trucking company, there are rules in place regarding what is called spoliation.
In a legal context, spoliation is defined as intentionally destroying or hiding evidence that is unfavorable to that responsible party. Once a trucking company receives notice that there has been an accident involving one of their vehicles, they may try to destroy evidence that could potentially put them in a bad light. There are laws and policies in place that are designed to prevent them from doing this, both at the federal and the state level, but sometimes trucking companies will take a chance, anyway.
Texas Law on Spoliation in Trucking Accidents
Like most other states, Texas doesn’t recognize spoliation as a separate cause of action, although it does allow a judge broad discretion to instruct a jury with regard to spoliation. Intentional spoliation of relevant evidence raises a presumption that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the trucking company, which the judge may instruct the jury to consider in their deliberations. Before that instruction may be given, however, three things must be determined:
- Whether or not a duty to preserve evidence was present;
- Whether the spoliation either intentionally or negligently breached that duty; and
- Whether the results of that spoliation prejudiced the other party’s ability to present its case or defenses to the court.
It is also necessary for the judge to consider the relevance of the evidence and whether it supported key issues in the case. They will also consider whether there was other evidence available to support the same aspect of the case or defense. If the spoliation didn’t actually damage a case, the judge may see the issue as prejudicial.
Trucking accidents can be extremely damaging and cause tremendous injuries to their victims, but evidence spoliation on the part of a trucking company can add insult to injury. Whether the spoliation was intentional or negligent, if it makes it more difficult for the injured party to prove their case, it should be part of any case brought at trial.
Texas Trucking Accident Attorneys
The trucking companies are fully aware of their responsibility to maintain certain records once they have been made aware of an accident involving one of their trucks. That’s why it’s not a great idea to handle a case against a trucking company alone; it can often be difficult to understand which documents and information the company is required to maintain, and you won’t necessarily know what to do should they not fulfill that responsibility. The Trucking Accident Attorneys at the Liggett Law Group have the knowledge and experience necessary to deal with spoliation issues and can help you recover for your devastating truck accident. Contact us today for a free consultation, so that we can discuss helping you.