Tennessee District Court Holds That Boilerplate Language in an Incident Report is Insufficient to Provide Defendant Notice to Retain Records

Under Federal and State laws regulating motor carriers, tractor-trailer drivers are required to keep logs of their driving times. If you were involved in a car accident with a tractor-trailer, the logs may be important evidence in proving the tractor trailer’s driver was negligent. While the employers of tractor-trailer drivers involved in collisions have a duty to produce any logs in a lawsuit arising out of the collision, it may not always be clear when it is necessary to retain records. The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee recently held that boilerplate language in an incident report was not sufficient to place the employer on notice that it needed to retain records. If you are involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer you should confer with an experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney as soon as possible, to ensure any evidence that is helpful to your case is not lost.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff and a defendant tractor-trailer driver were involved in a collision in October 2016. Plaintiff sued defendant driver for negligence and defendant’s employer for vicarious liability. In June 2017, plaintiff sent defendants correspondence in which she requested that defendants preserve any evidence related to the accident, and specifically asked defendants to retain any daily logs produced by the electronic logging device in the truck for the date of the accident and the six months preceding the accident. Defendants advised plaintiff they no longer had the logs due to the fact that they were automatically overwritten every six months. Plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions against defendants alleging that defendants purposefully destroyed evidence related to the accident.

Reportedly, a magistrate judge issued a report recommending the motion be denied. The magistrate report found that plaintiff had not proven defendants had a duty to retain the daily logs prior to receipt of the preservation letters. Further, the report found that the lack of the daily logs was not prejudicial, because defendants produced daily trip sheets that contained similar information. Plaintiff objected to the magistrate report, arguing that defendants should have been aware that the daily logs were relevant from the date of the accident, and that the evidence in the logs provided different information than what was in the driver trip sheets, including information regarding hours of service. Upon review, the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee adopted the magistrate judge’s report and denied the motion.

Ruling of United States District Court of Tennessee

The court noted that federal law imposes an obligation on a party to preserve evidence when it knew or should have known the evidence would be relevant to future litigation. Here, the court noted the defendant driver was not cited for the accident, and the damage to plaintiff’s vehicle was minimal. Further, plaintiff did not receive medical treatment immediately after the accident. The court declined to adopt plaintiff’s argument that a duty to preserve evidence should have been imposed on the defendant employer on the day of the accident due to language in the incident report drafted following the collision, which stated the report was drafted in anticipation of litigation. Rather, the court found this constituted boilerplate language which was insufficient to put defendant employer on notice of the possibility of litigation. Additionally, the court reiterated that because defendant driver did not receive a traffic citation and neither party required medical care, there was no notice of potential litigation. As such, the court denied plaintiff’s motion.

Retain a Skilled Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney

Records regarding how many hours are logged by a tractor-trailer driver are important tools in establishing that the driver’s negligence caused an accident. It is essential to send a notice to preserve evidence to a defendant driver and his or her employer as soon as possible, to prevent the disposal of any pertinent evidence. Eric Beasley is a Tennessee car accident attorney well-versed in what is needed to recover from trucking companies. He will work diligently to obtain any evidence that will help your case. To schedule a consultation to discuss your claim, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

More Blog Posts:

Liability after a Tennessee Drunk Driving Accident Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 16, 2018.

Tennessee Court Confirms Collateral Source Rule Still Applies Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, March 7, 2018.

Tennessee Court Allows Additional Time to Identify Jane Doe Parties  Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 23, 2018.