How does a spoliation letter preserve evidence after a truck accident?
Spoliation is the purposeful destruction of or failure to preserve evidence. Evidence spoliation happens all too often in the trucking industry when a tractor-trailer is involved in an accident. And while this seems like it may be illegal, trucking companies may, after a certain period of time, destroy potential accident evidence. To ensure this does not happen, you must send the company a spoliation letter.
What is a spoliation letter?
The letter of spoliation tells a trucking company that it must preserve certain records and evidence beyond the minimum time period provided under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). For example, under FMCSA rules, trucking companies must retain a truck driver’s record of duty status for a minimum of six months, after which they can legally destroy them.
Records in the hands of the trucking company can play a big part in your accident case. You do not want to give it the opportunity to destroy these records as it may very well prove negligence on the trucking company’s, or driver’s, behalf.
As a way of preventing this destruction of key evidence, you should prepare a very detailed letter of spoliation. The sooner you send this letter out, the better. Trucking companies may know they have damaging evidence in their possession and they may attempt to hide or destroy it.
Drafting a proper spoliation letter can be very difficult; get help from a truck accident attorney at the Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, P.C.
What should I put in the letter?
Upfront, your letter should make it perfectly clear that the trucking company must preserve relevant key evidence. In addition to identify yourself as the plaintiff and the trucking company as the defendant, your letter should contain the following:
- The truck’s license plate number
- The location, time, and date of the accident
- What evidence you need the company to preserve/how you want it preserved
Evidence You Should Include in Your Letter
The main purpose of your letter is for the preservation of key evidence. Well, you should specify what it is that you need the company to preserve. While the receiver of the letter has the responsibility of identifying relevant information, it is better to be safe than sorry. Merely writing “all evidence” or “all relevant evidence” may not be sufficient. Make sure your letter is detailed. Some evidence you may want preserved includes:
- Hours of service logs for the driver (e.g., could help show that the driver was operating the truck longer than allowed by FMCSA)
- Daily inspection reports (e.g., if the accident was the result of improperly loaded cargo, reports may prove that the driver skipped inspection)
- Maintenance records regarding the truck and the trailer involved (e.g., necessary if the accident was the result of a mechanical malfunction)
- Dispatch logs
- Bills of lading pertaining to the truck and the driver
- Computer records on-board
- Employee records (e.g., could show that the driver has a history of reckless driving)
- Trucking company safety records
- Reports of the accident, including video and photographs
- Statements made by witnesses (e.g., a witness may have seen the driver yawning and swerving right before the crash)
- GPS information
- Drug or alcohol tests taken following the accident
You must also remember to ask the company to preserve the truck itself. Include how you would like the truck preserved until you can have it thoroughly inspected by a specialist. You should also include a deadline for when said inspection is to take place.
In addition, your letter should mention not discarding, deleting, destroying, altering, tampering, or hiding this evidence.
Now, who should receive a copy of the spoliation letter?
You now have your letter of spoliation ready to go, great! Now it is time to send it to the relevant parties. But who are those relevant parties?
While it is likely that the defendant in your case is the trucking company, you will likely want to send any involved parties a letter. These may include:
- The truck driver
- The trucking company (You may want to send it to various people at the company to ensure it gets into the right hands)
- The trucking company’s insurer
- The mechanic (if the accident was the result of a truck malfunction/shoddy maintenance)
Will sending the letter stop the trucking company from destroying evidence?
Not every company abides by the rules and some companies, even after receiving your letter, will destroy evidence anyway. This does not mean you are out of luck, though. Because evidence destruction is against the law, if the trucking company destroys evidence necessary to your case, that destruction will not go unpunished.
Depending on the circumstances of the case as well as whether the destruction was purposeful, trucking companies can face sanctions or even lose their case.
In one notable case, Alegria v. Howard and AAA Cooper Transportation, Inc., a Georgia court found the trucking company at fault for an accident after the court discovered that the company had destroyed evidence, repaired the truck a few days after the accident, fabricated evidence, and denied the existence of evidence.
Where can I get help with my spoliation letter?
As we said above, drafting a perfect spoliation letter is not easy. Fortunately, the Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, P.C. is here to help. Jason has years of experience helping Georgia residents get the compensation they need and deserve after an accident involving a negligent truck driver.
Contact Jason as soon as possible to schedule an appointment for a FREE consultation: 404-474-0804. Our consultations are always free and you never pay a dime until we win your case.