When a truck accident occurs, the damage can be devastating. In many cases, the drivers and passengers of the other vehicles involved experience serious, traumatic injuries. Afterward, they face long, painful recoveries. Often, they must miss work and are unable to experience life in the same manner as before. They pursue personal injury cases to help maintain their family’s security and ensure their physical and emotional well-being. While they play by the rules and seek the compensation they deserve, trucking companies have been known to try to mitigate the negative effects on their business any way they can. In some cases, at-fault drivers and their employers have destroyed or claimed to have lost evidence that would expose their own negligence. Accident victims can, however, take legal steps to preserve evidence and protect their rights. A spoliation letter can be sent to prevent the loss of information relevant to a personal injury claim.
What Is a Spoliation Letter?
Spoliation is the intentional withholding, alteration, or destruction of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding. There have been cases where the responsible parties destroyed or claimed to have lost evidence that would expose their liabilities. A spoliation letter is a document sent to the opposing party after a trucking accident asking that they preserve specific evidence. This letter makes it clear to a trucking company what evidence the victim will be expecting. After receiving such a letter, it is difficult for a company to claim that evidence was lost or destroyed innocently or in the normal course of business.
What Kinds of Evidence Can a Spoliation Letter Protect?
Trucking companies are required by federal law to maintain certain records regarding their vehicles and drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has specific rules about what documentation must be gathered and kept. A spoliation letter is unique to each accident case, and it should ask for any pertinent information about the driver, the vehicle, and the trucking company that could have contributed to the crash. This could include:
- The driver’s hours of service log
- The driver’s medical records
- The driver’s drug and alcohol test results
- Vehicle inspection reports
- Vehicle maintenance reports
- Relevant permits
- In-vehicle computer records if present
- Bills of lading
- Telephone statements
- Credit card receipts
- The driver’s traffic citation history
- Email records
- Photographs and video from the accident scene
What If the Trucking Company Does Not Comply?
While not every spoliation letter will prevent the loss of evidence, it does provide a legal standing for the victim. Trucking companies can be held accountable if they are found to have ignored the spoliation letter and disposed of relevant materials or information after a letter was received. The courts can impose fines and exclude other evidence if they believe that spoliation has occurred. Additionally, a judge can rule that there is what is known as a “presumption of adverse evidence.” This means that a judge or jury will be told to presume that evidence was destroyed because it was damaging to the company’s defense. In extreme cases, a judge can even impose “death penalty sanctions,” which effectively end their defense and leave victims with a successful claim.
A skilled attorney can help victims not only draft an effective letter, but also identify cases in which evidence has been hidden. With knowledge of the law and the previous truck accident case experience, a lawyer can help victims hold trucking companies accountable.
Prompt Delivery Is Critical to Preserving Necessary Evidence
It is important, however, to draft and send a spoliation letter as soon as possible after the accident. This prevents the trucking companies from being able to claim ignorance regarding the evidence. A personal injury case requires solid evidence of driver and/or company negligence to be successful. A spoliation letter can help victims obtain the necessary information before it is too late.
If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in a truck accident, protect your rights and begin to build a solid legal claim today. The experienced attorneys at Kennedy Law Firm, L.L.P., can help you seek the justice and compensation you deserve.