Send a Spoliation Letter to Stop Trucking Companies from Destroying Accident Evidence
Truck accident victims are on a race against time. In addition to ensuring they file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, they must also ensure that they get the evidence necessary to prove fault before the trucking company can destroy it.
How long do trucking companies need to keep records?Under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, trucking companies can destroy records, regardless of whether they are part of a case, after a certain period of time. Evidence destruction can be accidental (e.g., destroyed the wrong document, flooding, fire), negligent (e.g., left the records exposed to the elements), or deliberate (e.g., knowingly shredded or burned the documents, etc).
How long a trucking company needs to wait before destroying documents depends on what information the documents contain. For example, if a driver has ever tested positive for drugs or an alcohol blood content of .02 or higher, an employer must keep those records for a minimum of five years.
However, FMCSA regulations only require the company to keep "supporting data for periodical reports of accidents," inspections, repairs, and the driver's logbooks for six months. This means that the company can legally destroy accident evidence after six months. If your case hinges on an employee driving longer than the legally allotted hours or a mechanical error stemming from a lack of maintenance or repairs, this destruction could devastate your case.
How can I stop the trucking company from destroying evidence?Seeing as you will likely be recovering from very serious injuries, six months is not a lot of time to gather all the evidence you may need. To ensure the trucking company keeps the records you need for your case, your lawyer can send a preservation letter, also known as a spoliation letter, as soon as possible.
A spoliation letter requires the company to preserve all requested documents until you have resolved your case. This way, even if time runs out under FMCSA regulations, your evidence will be safe from destruction.
It is important to note that you (or your lawyer) must list specific records in the spoliation letter. It is not enough to say, "Preserve all accident evidence." You must say, "Preserve all hours of service logs, drug and alcohol test results, and personnel files for driver Jim Doe, any inspection records for truck #50, and any data from the truck's electronic recording device," for example.
What happens if the company disobeys the spoliation letter?If the trucking company destroys or "loses" evidence after your lawyer has sent a spoliation letter, it could face court sanctions. It may also face thousands of dollars in fines from FMCSA.