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Truck Lawyers: Get Your Hands on Those Discovery Documents!

February 25, 2010 by Steven M. Gursten

Helping truck accident lawyers better understand preservation of supporting documents to strengthen your case

A truck accident lawyer who conducts thorough legal discovery will most often, lay the groundwork for a successful truck case in Michigan. Many commercial truck crash cases begin with investigation of the driver. You must look deeper than the circumstances surrounding the crash itself.

For pre-deposition or interrogatory analysis, there are several other ways to “fact check” the accuracy of a driver’s daily log book. Receipts for food and gas accumulated throughout the day, bills of lading, toll receipts, “EZ Pass”-type toll collection system records, and on-board GPS tracking print-outs are just a few examples of the verifiable footprints a driver leaves behind when he’s on the road. A savvy truck accident lawyer will be able to determine whether it was feasible for the driver to actually make the trip he documented in his daily log.

Rule of the Road No. 2 – You Have Less than Six Months to Get Those Docs

Federal truck law 49 CFR ? 395.8(k)(1) requires motor carriers to retain all supporting discovery documents at their principal places of business for a period of six months from the date of receipt. Under the regs, “supporting documents” are defined as motor carrier records, maintained in the ordinary course of business, used by the motor carrier to verify the information recorded on the driver’s daily log.” Essentially, any documents directly related to the trucking company’s operation, which are retained by the truck in connection with the operation of its transportation business, are considered “supporting documents.”

Failure to preserve these supporting documents for six months after driver submission is considered a “critical” offense under Appendix B to ? 385. If in your discovery, you find that the carrier is destroying or not preserving its drivers’ daily logs and supporting documents, you will know that this particular carrier is altering its overall safety rating and (most importantly) violating federal law.

If the carrier did have such supporting documents in its possession, and it’s later found that the driver violated federal driving limits, your case against the carrier itself will be significantly strengthened.

Under 49 CFR ? 395.8(k)(1), these supporting documents were in the carrier’s possession. The carrier either failed to stop the driver from driving over the limits, or it continued to dispatch the driver for additional work with notice that the driver was over. Ultimately, the carrier has the burden to investigate and audit its driver’s hours of service through supporting documents. Simply ignoring false logs presented by its drivers will not absolve a carrier from liability.

Big Trucks, Big Business

Keep in mind, an inexperienced attorney who is not familiar with these important time lines could let some of the most critical evidence slip through the cracks. If he waits too long, the evidence can be legally destroyed; dramatically altering the outcome of the truck case and the plaintiff’s recovery.

I’d like to wrap this up by reminding truck accident victims and lawyers alike that many large trucking companies instantly employ an array of defense tactics following a crash, to mitigate and lessen liability. Michigan lawyers need to start the investigation into a serious personal injury or fatality case immediately.

Next week, I will share with you my third Rule of the Road, regarding investigation into a truck driver’s background and character.

Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious truck accident injury cases. He is on the board of governors for the Association of Plaintiffs Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America and past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group. Recently, he was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his efforts to promote truck safety.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Muffet

Related information:

Michigan Truck Accident Investigation

Legal Discovery: The Truck

Find the Right Lawyer for Your Truck Accident Case

Video for Lawyers: Phases of a Truck Accident Lawsuit

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit to better serve you. Call (248) 353-7575 for a free consultation from one of our attorneys.

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