Articles Posted in Trucking litigation discovery

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One day in Kansas City, I took the deposition testimony through an interpreter of a Bosnian immigrant truck driver. He was driving with a Florida Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) when he crashed an 18-wheeler into my client on a Georgia interstate highway.

I asked where he got his truck driver training. He said some Russian guy in North Carolina, whose name he could not recall, trained him. How did he study the Commercial Drivers License manual, published in English?   He said his 10-year-old daughter read it and translated it for him. She may have been a precocious child, but really? I didn’t think then to dig into how he was able to take and pass the Florida CDL tests.

For several years, a high percentage of our serious truck crash cases have involved immigrant truck drivers who have to testify through interpreters. They drive the highways of America in little bubbles of their home countries, talking by cell phone as they drive with people in their home countries, listening to music in a native dialect, and never really interacting with America language or culture.

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When we share the road with semi tractor trailer drivers who pilot 80,000 pound big rigs on highways across the country, we hope they are well-qualified and safety conscious. Most are but some are not.

Among the many things I examine as a trucking accident litigation trial attorney in Georgia are the qualifications, experience and background of the truck driver.

Commercial truck and bus drivers are required to have knowledge of and comply with all government trucking safety regulations and company policies. Motor carriers operating truck and bus lines are required to make sure drivers are adequately trained and monitor drivers’ performance.

Entry level truck drivers must obtain a Commercial Driver’s License, usually referred to as a CDL. That requires training in driver qualifications, hours of service, safe operations and whistle blower protection. The CDL manuals for all states in the US are materially identical. Drivers are required to know and understand pertinent provisions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, so the CDL manual explains the regs in simpler, graphic terms.

Drivers of specialized commercial vehicles need additional training specific to those types of vehicles. Trade organizations and safety materials publishing companies produce training videos and manuals for a wide variety of specialized commercial vehicles such as concrete mixer trucks, crane trucks, etc.

These CDL manuals and specialized training materials are extremely useful in cross examining truck drivers after they crash.

In applying for a truck driving job, a truck driver must provide his or her CDL, employment history, driving records, record of convictions and violations, medical history, drug and alcohol history, and physical exam.

Trucking companies are required to conduct a road test of the driver, testing knowledge, skills, experience and training, using the same type vehicle the driver is expected to operate. The test must be conducted by an employee who is qualified to do so.

When representing the victims of a catastrophic semi tractor trailer crash, all this fair game for thorough and sifting examination. Any lawyer who thinks a commercial truck crash is just a bigger car wreck will be clueless and unprepared, vastly reducing the prospects for success in representing his client. That is why our years of experience in trucking litigation matters.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations; Truck Accident Litigation (3d edition)

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Because driver fatigue is one of the most pervasive safety issues in interstate trucking, trucking safety regulations for many years have included rules on how many hours a driver may drive and be on duty. In almost every serious trucking accident, the accuracy of paper driver logs becomes an issue. As a trucking safety trial attorney in Georgia, I have exerted a great deal of effort over the years investigating other records to determine the truth which does not always match those logs.

Now, after years of controversy, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing a new rule requiring Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBR).

A proposed rule published published Feb. 1 that would require motor carriers that are required to maintain Records of Duty Status for Hours of Service (HOS) recordkeeping would have to use EOBRs to monitor their drivers’ compliance.

FMCSA’s proposal includes supporting documents these carriers would still be required to obtain and keep, as required by section 113(a) of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Authorization Act, but it would remove requirements to retain supporting documents to verify driving time. It would require all carriers to systematically monitor their drivers’ compliance with HOS requirements, with three years from the effective date of the final rule to comply.

The agency is accepting comments until April 4, 2011. FMCSA had issued a rule on April 5, 2010, that mandated EOBR use by June 4, 2012, by motor carriers found during a compliance review to have a 10 percent violation rate for any HOS regulation. This new rule expands that requirement, with three possible options:

Option 1 would require EOBRs for all drivers required to use paper logs.

Option 2 expands Option 1 to include all passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles subject to the s and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations shipments of bulk hazardous material, regardless whether the drivers use paper logs or are exempted from doing so.

Option 3 would include all commercial motor vehicle operations subject to the hours of service requirements.

While this is generally a step in the right direction, I’m cynical enough to note that even electronic systems are potentially subject to manipulation and cheating, though the human overrides required to cheat will require more sophistication than merely lying on a paper log, often referred to as a “comic book.” If maintenance of supporting documentation is no longer required, it will become vastly more difficult to check the accuracy of electronic records that may be subject to sophisticated cheating.

Those of us who inquire into the truth underlying hours of service reports will also have to become more sophisticated about discovery of electronically stored information in the trucking industry. That will likely require more experts and more expense.
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As a Georgia attorney litigating hard-fought trucking accident cases, I often get into cases after the trucking company claims to have discarded driver logs and other records that they are only required to routinely keep for six months.

Then when we try to get driver logs, trip receipts, inspection and maintenance records, etc., in discovery, they respond that they no longer exist.

Sometimes it’s amazing that a company would have been so bold as to discard or destroy those records when they knew there was an accident with injury. If the records were favorable, one might suppose they would have kept them for use in their defense.

The duty to preserve evidence “arises not only during litigation but also extends to the period before the litigation when a party reasonably should know that the evidence may be relevant to anticipated litigation.” Silvestri v. Gen. Motors Corp., 271 F.3d 583, 591 (4th Cir.2001). Therefore, once a party reasonably anticipates litigation, it has a duty to suspend any routine document purging system that might be in effect and to put in place a litigation hold to ensure the preservation of relevant documents-failure to do so constitutes spoliation. Lewy v. Remington Arms Co., Inc., 836 F.2d 1104, 1112 (8th Cir.1988); Thompson v. United States Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev., 219 F.R.D. 93, 101 (D.Md.2003).

And, certainly, there is a duty not to initiate a document destruction procedure if the party reasonably anticipates litigation. Rambus, Inc. v. Infineon Technologies AG, 220 F.R.D. 264 (E.D.Va.,2004).
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