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Spoliation of Evidence in Truck Accident Cases

18-Wheeler-SmallIn a traditional auto accident case, evidence regarding how the collision occurred can come from many sources – statements of the drivers, the police officer’s investigation, witness testimony, analysis of the property damage, nearby surveillance footage, and more. When a commercial truck or 18-wheeler is involved, the number of potential sources of information increases exponentially. Thus, an experienced truck accident lawyer will want to take certain steps to make sure certain evidence remains preserved and is not intentionally destroyed or allowed to disappear in the trucking company’s ordinary course of business. One such step is to send a spoliation of evidence letter to the trucking company and its insurance carrier(s).

Evidence to establish liability in a truck accident case can come from a variety of sources, including:

  • The truck itself: Following an accident, a truck may be taken out of commission, depending on the damage. If the truck was towed, the trucking company may immediately retrieve the vehicle, repair it, and put it back on the road. Photographs of the damaged truck and measurements can come in handy later in the case.
  • Data from the truck: Today, big rig trucks come equipped with highly specialized technology and safety features, such as GPS systems, dash cameras, “black boxes,” electronic control modules, and more. These devices contain vehicle tracking information and can provide information related to the truck’s speed and braking maneuvers. Accident reconstruction experts can download this data to provide an opinion as to how the wreck occurred. Time is of the essence in downloading this information, as evidence could disappear if the truck is repaired and put back on the road.
  • Records kept by the trucking company: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires detailed record keeping, including driver logs, the driver’s personnel file, and post-accident drug test results.

To avoid responsibility for a collision, rogue trucking companies will intentionally destroy or hide unfavorable evidence, even if the plaintiff would have the legal right to obtain such information in the discovery process. Other companies will allow such evidence to disappear or be destroyed in the ordinary course of business. If a spoliation of evidence letter was sent but the information still gets destroyed, the court could instruct the jury to assume the destroyed evidence would have been unfavorable to the spoliating party.

In general, courts have the ability to assess sanctions regarding the spoliation of evidence. The Tennessee Supreme Court addressed this issue in Tatham v. Bridgestone Ams. Holding, Inc., 473 S.W.3d 734 (Tenn. 2015). It was held that Tennessee courts have wide discretion in terms of imposing sanctions for the spoliation of evidence, and a finding of intentional spoliation is NOT required. Instead, relevant factors will include:

  1. The culpability of the spoliating party in causing the evidence to be destroyed, including evidence of fraudulent intent or intentional misconduct;
  2. The degree of prejudice suffered by the opposing party as a result of the evidence being destroyed;
  3. Whether, at the time the evidence was destroyed, the spoliating party knew or had reason to know that the evidence was relevant to pending litigation or reasonably foreseeable litigation; and
  4. The least severe sanction available to remedy any prejudice caused to the non-spoliating party

For a severely injured victim, preserving evidence could make the difference between being made whole and recovering nothing at all. Even if a truck driver denies responsibility for an accident, the truck’s black box could place fault squarely on that individual. To speak with a Tennessee truck accident lawyer today, call Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz at 800-529-4004 or complete this form. We are the largest Tennessee-based personal injury law firm, serving clients in Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and surrounding areas.