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Semi-Truck Accident Attorneys Review Court Decision Analyzing Complex Issues Regarding Spoliation of Evidence

Our Miami semi-truck accident attorneys recognize that trucking collisions differ from other motor vehicle accidents.  A big-rig crash is not just a collision involving a large vehicle, a collision involving a vehicle that outweighs the other vehicle by 25 times poses special dangers.  When a semi-truck collides with an automobile, any resulting serious injury almost always involves occupants of the other vehicle.  Because trucking companies anticipate potential liability, they frequently are geared up to dispatch investigators to a crash site within a few minutes.  The trucking industry also is notorious for manipulating evidence.  For example, driver logbooks that are used to track hours of service and maintenance are derisively referred to in the industry as “lie books.”  This practice means that the issue of “spoliation” of evidence often arises in trucking litigation.  While spoliation of evidence often is alleged against the trucking company, this blog examines a court decision in which the victim of an unsafe trucker faces these allegations.

In Cook v. Tarbert Logging, Inc., the plaintiff’s pickup was struck by a semi-truck driven by an employee of a logging company.  Several months after the collision, the plaintiff retained an attorney, as well as an expert to examine the pickup.  The expert’s investigation included taking measurements and photos, but the airbag control monitor was not accessed.  This omission became a serious issue because the airbag control monitor could have revealed speeding by the plaintiff at the moment of impact.

The plaintiff filed his lawsuit against the logging company and the county approximately two years after the crash.  The attorney for the county submitted a request to examine the pickup approximately three years after the collision.   By the time the request was received, the vehicle had been sold for parts.  At trial, the defendants contended the plaintiff should be sanctioned for spoliation of evidence because he failed to keep the pickup available in its post-crash condition.  The defendants also asked the court to impose sanctions in the form of directing the jury to reach an inference that the airbag control monitor would have shown the plaintiff was speeding.

The trial court agreed with the defendants that the plaintiff committed spoliation of evidence because he knew the pickup would provide important and relevant information.  However, the trial judge did not find the plaintiff’s conduct to have been intentional and purposeful which would have justified the requested sanction.  The appellate court determined that under the law of the jurisdiction parties do not have an obligation to preserve potential evidence prior to commencing a lawsuit.  The court indicated that even the destruction of information, materials, or objects that might provide relevant evidence in foreseeable litigation does not constitute spoliation.  Under the law of the state where the case was decided, the court concluded pre-litigation destruction or alteration of material only constitutes spoliation when performed in “bad faith” to “get rid of evidence.”

The law regarding spoliation of evidence varies from state to state, but this case reveals the complexities involved in spoliation of evidence claims which might arise in a trucking accident case.  Our law firm takes affirmative action to put defendants on notice that a big-rig and the on board data recorder are evidence that must be maintained to avoid sanctions.  The need to take these special steps to preserve evidence is just one way that trucking accidents differ from garden-variety car accidents.  These special considerations make it important that you are represented by an experienced Miami tractor-trailer accident lawyer.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano:  Seeking Maximum Recovery for Trucking Accident Victims and Families

Our Miami trucking accident injury attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to pursue results.  For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in a trucking accident and wrongful death actions across South Florida.  We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.  Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald.   Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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