Trucking Company Records May Lead to Imposition of Punitive Damages

By June 28, 2007Trucking Accidents

In trying truck accident cases, there is certain discovery that should be done that can prove that the trucking company is liable not only for the actual damages, but also punitive damages.
In any trucking accident, the most obvious and simplest way to obtain evidence that will support an award of punitive damages it the Alcohol and drug screening that is performed after any accident. An attorney also needs to obtain the truck driver’s logs and then make mathematical calculations of miles traveled during a particular time which could lead to evidence of excessive speed as well as the trucking company’s knowledge of the truck driver driving at excessive rates of speed. Also, sometimes trucking companies on their bills of lading or other records indicate that a particular load is a “high value extremely time sensitive load” which can provide evidence of motive regarding why the truck driver was encouraged by his trucking company to speed.
It can also be argued that if the trucking company or motor carrier does not have a management system in place to monitor hours of service violations and prevent them, that the trucking company is permitting or intentionally turning a blind eye to allowing their drivers to speed and endanger other drivers lives.
Another area of discovery that should be explored is obtaining the driver’s cell phone records. There have been studies which demonstrate that drivers on cell phones are as impaired as drunk drivers. Obtaining records showing that the driver was on the phone, especially if he is on the phone to his company, can provide not only evidence of liability and conduct that could give rise to the imposition of punitive damages..
In addition, companies are required to keep certain records by federal regulation. Companies that do not keep supporting documents, including downloads from the truck’s ECM module, satellite positioning, tapes of phone records, pay records, as well as driver e-mail messages, can all form the basis of spoliation of evidence claims which in some states is an independent tort.
A less common area of discovery is annual driver reviews. Many companies do not do adequate annual driver reviews and evidence of unreported tickets including reckless driving, any evidence of drivers carrying duplicate drivers license from different states, and any general violation of company rules can provide a basis for liability.
Finally prescription drugs and legal medications can be a legitimate avenue that may provide evidence sufficient to allow recovery of punitive damages. Every company has a duty to find out whether the driver is taking any medication. The drivers in turn are supposed to tell trucking companies about medicines that they are taking. If a carrier does not take action to find out what type of medication a driver is taking, this may provide another independent basis for liability. Many medications are labeled informing a patient that they should not operate heavy equipment while taking the medication.
These are just some of the areas that should be investigated in any trucking accident case, including negligent hiring and retention. Negligent hiring and retention can, especially in cases of vicarious liability, provide an independent basis of liability if the trucking company does not admit agency and liability for the truck driver.