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Spoliation of Evidence in a Texas Trucking Accident Lawsuit

big rigTrucking companies often deny liability in truck accident cases, and in some cases, they even destroy or falsify evidence to avoid liability. It is important to retain an attorney who understands how to obtain discovery in a Texas truck accident lawsuit. In Greenwood Motor Lines, Inc. v. Bush, a trucking company and its driver appealed a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

The trucking company argued a number of things, including insufficient evidence and incorrect handling of allegations of spoliation of evidence.

The case arose when the plaintiff was rear-ended by the defendants’ tractor trailer while driving east on I-20 one night. The plaintiff suffered physical and neurological harm that necessitated surgeries and caused her pain up to and through the trial. Her two dogs were killed.

The truck driver didn’t call 911 but called his employer, which created an event report stating that there was snow and wetness and that the driver was going 65 mph. Later, the driver would deny saying any of these things, and it’s possible that the mobile data terminal (MDT) on his truck told his employer this information. The MDT data was unavailable for the accident because it hadn’t been preserved by the trucking company.

The truck driver kept a logbook of his hours, which his employer was obliged to monitor. However, the driver did not record the accident in his logbook, and he later would testify that he falsified the log. Moreover, on the date of the accident, he was pulling two 28-foot-long trailers, which he had not been trained to pull. He’d only been trained to connect them and learned how to operate the vehicle pulling those trailers through experience on the road.

The plaintiff sued the truck driver and his employer for negligence, gross negligence, and negligence per se. The defendant employer argued that the plaintiff’s own negligence was the only legal cause of the accident. It also argued the accident was unavoidable or the result of an emergency, and punitive damages were inappropriate, among other things.

Other witnesses testified that on other occasions, the defendant driver had caused their vehicles damage as well. The driver had been ticketed for failure to control speed, among other things. Someone who worked for the employer testified that the driver’s log book was audited, but there was pattern logging in the log book, which is a red flag that should provide notice to a carrier that there’s a problem with the logs.

The jury found that the driver’s negligence legally caused the occurrence, the driver was 100% responsible for the occurrence, the employer’s negligence in entrusting the truck to an incompetent driver was the legal cause of the accident, and the employer was grossly negligent, among other things. The trial court awarded the plaintiff more than $4 million in actual damages, $50,000 in punitive damages, and interest.

The trucking company and truck driver appealed. The driver made numerous arguments, including that the police report should be inadmissible. The appellate court explained that there was no gap between the information and the opinions provided in the report.

The trucking company argued it didn’t have a duty to preserve the data in the MDT. It claimed no data had been recorded, so nothing needed to be preserved. A witness testified, however, that only the data related to the accident was missing, which indicated an intentional removal. The trucking company also argued that the trial court had abused its discretion in letting an expert witness testify about the driver’s pattern logging.

The appellate court explained that its job was not to say whether the conclusions of an expert were right, but instead whether the analysis was reliable and admissible. In this case, the driver had logged the same speed each day he drove in a five-month period, even though GPS data showed he’d gone over 73 mph 63 times. It concluded the expert’s testimony was reliable and admissible. For these and other reasons, it affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

If you are hurt in a truck accident, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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