Protecting Post Accident Documents

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The best business practices often collide and clash with litigation. As litigators, our job is to work within the structure of our clients’ business practices, not vice versa.  A trucking company confronted with an accident will want to investigate whether its driver was potentially at fault so it can take corrective measures needed to try and ensure similar future events do not occur.  Most times, the investigation reveals the accident occurred through absolutely no fault of the truck driver.  However, through this process, a trail of paperwork is created.  Regardless of the conclusion, the materials created in the course of an investigation can create litigation headaches, as undoubtedly plaintiff’s counsel will try to gain access to them to use against your client in any way possible.  Our job in defending the trucking company is to limit access and keep that information out of evidence.

The key to this fight is to be aggressive from the beginning.  Do not wait until trial to shape your arguments as to why certain documents should be inadmissible.  An argument can and should be made that plaintiff’s counsel should not get access to these documents in discovery.  In addition to work product protections, 49 U.S.C. § 504(f) provides that “no report of an accident occurring in operations of a motor carrier . . . and required by the Secretary . . . may be admitted into evidence or used in a civil action for damages related to a matter mentioned in the report or investigation.”

Courts across the country have interpreted this statute to mean that not only are some post-accident documents not admissible, they are not even discoverable. This statute, used in combination with your local state law, can be an effective shield to any harassing or overbroad discovery aimed at obtaining post-accident investigations performed by your client.

By Tim Niedbalski

Niedblaski

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