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Vanishing Act – Spoliation of Evidence in Tennessee Trucking Accident Litigation

One of the most important concerns following a trucking accident is the preservation of evidence.  Conducting a thorough investigation following an accident is of the utmost importance, and is essential to the development of claims against trucking companies. Truck drivers and trucking companies must follow specific rules and procedures known as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.  Experienced attorneys will arrange detailed inspections of the truck involved in the accident, and will seek data, documents and information about the truck and the accident. Obtaining this information can help the victim prove a truck driver’s negligence.

Items like driver logs, on-board computer data, daily inspection reports and the damaged truck itself are important in determining the potential causes of the accident, as well as any violations of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.  This information may assist in documenting the speed of the truck at impact, maintenance issues with the truck, as well as whether driver fatigue may have been a factor based on the driver operating over the allowable hours of service.  Evidence from a commercial truck or 18-wheeler is also essential for experts to review for the reconstruction of the accident as well as the assessment of violations of trucking standards.

Although trucking companies are aware of the importance of this information, they are also eager to put their trucks back in service as quickly as possible following an accident, which may result in this crucial information being “lost” in the early stages of the litigation. When a trucking company fails to preserve evidence that is relevant to a claim following an accident, this is referred to as spoliation of evidence.   Spoliation can be intentional or unintentional.  Even where a trucking company negligently loses or destroys documents or information, they may be liable for spoliation of evidence under the law.

In Tennessee, for example, the Rules of Civil Procedure provide that “[s]anctions may be imposed upon a party or an agent of a party who discards, destroys, mutilates, alters, or conceals evidence.”   These sanctions may include prohibiting an offending trucking company from presenting certain defenses at trial, striking portions of their pleadings, or even rendering a judgment against the trucking company by default.  Additionally, if certain evidence is lost or destroyed, a court may allow a jury to draw a negative inference against the trucking company, allowing the jury to assume that the lost evidence would have harmed the trucking company’s case.

It is very important that individuals who suffer personal injuries due to an accident with a trucking company obtain the services of an experienced lawyer with the resources to properly investigate and develop the claim.  In the first contact with the trucking company, a lawyer can demand that the important information listed above be preserved for the purposes of the litigation.  This early notice is essential, as the United States Department of Transportation only requires trucking companies to keep many of these documents and data for six months. When a trucking company fails to preserve this information, an experienced lawyer will be able to effectively fight for all appropriate sanctions against the company for the spoliation of evidence.

Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz has represented people hurt in truck accidents in Tennessee for more than 25 years. For a free consultation, call us today at 1-800-LAW-4004.