January 27, 2021 | Truck Accidents

Spoliation Letter in a Truck Accident: Litigation Hold Notice & Sample Preservation Letter

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When you have experienced the trauma of a truck accident, it can be difficult to wrap your mind around what needs to be done. There are medical bills, physical recovery, insurance, and taking legal action, not to mention the emotional toll accidents have on your wellbeing.

Truck accidents can quickly become complicated, so having a legal team backing you up and initiating litigation through a spoliation letter can help with the process of getting compensated for the accident you were involved in. There is a reason trucking injuries are one of the most common areas in writing spoliation letters.

What Is A Spoliation Letter? 

Spoliation is the intentional destruction or alteration of evidence by the party who holds data that can be used against them. A spoliation letter, also known as a litigation hold or preservation letter, is a legal document in the form of a notice to an opposing party. The letter requests the party (a company, individual, or third-party) to preserve all relevant evidence.

Making sure preservation of electronic evidence, also known as electronically-stored information (ESI) or e-documentation, is an important part of initiating legal holds. The litigation hold letter, which can also be phrased as a litigation hold notice, trigger the duty to preserve all evidence.

A Short History of Spoliation Letters

Legal hold letters really took off in 2003 when electronic discovery was introduced in court. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin changed the platform of electronic preservation duties in court cases during the Zubulake v. UBS Warburg case. Judge Scheindlin transformed the modern courtroom when it comes to eDiscovery and defining triggers for evidence retention.

What Does a Spoliation Letter Do?

Spoliation Letters are sent out to the defendant who holds evidence for a case. For example, when you are injured in a trucking accident, you may send a spoliation letter to the trucking company since they will have printed and electronically-stored records and reports, plus the damaged vehicle. A spoliation letter requests that the company preserves general or specific evidence for future litigation.

The parties the letter is sent to have a duty to preserve evidence. In fact, it is federal law that a party must preserve evidence from the time they anticipate litigation (the process of taking legal action).

The Importance of Spoliation Letters 

Spoliation letters are the difference between large amounts of potentially lost data and intentionally saved specific data for evidence.

Federal law views the preservation of evidence as a common-law duty even before a claim is filed. Yet, federal common law is limited because it only applies to federal courts. Therefore, in any legal case where incriminating evidence belongs to another party, spoliation letters are important so your document retention notice leaves a paper trail.

Litigation hold notices are also important because of the volume of information companies deal with on a day-to-day basis. Spoliation letters are essential to ensure the company at hand can gather all of the information needed for the litigation and have it in one place, ready for a case.

Sending spoliation letters are considered taking reasonable steps to make a case. Triggering a case can be made vocally, with subpoenas, or with credible threats. Yet, supplying a document preservation notice stating what you expect from the other party makes the triggering of litigation clear.

The Importance of Spoliation Letters in Truck Accidents

Presenting a notice of preservation (spoliation letter) in truck accidents is necessary because of the regulations required by truck companies. In order for trucks to be cleared for travel, trucks go through standard maintenance procedures which could potentially destroy evidence for your case.

When a preservation of evidence letter is presented specifying the vehicle or other potential contributing factors in the case of injury, the truck company needs to keep all evidence or potential evidence and halt their regular processes. Even if there isn’t anything obvious on the truck, evidence may arise later. It’s important to request any and all records that relate to your injury.

Spoliation Claims

An important part of this legal hold process is the spoliation itself. If you suspect spoliation from the other party did occur (meaning you think they destroyed records or other evidence), you may consider writing a spoliation claim.

The Process of Litigation Holds

A litigation hold, also known as preservation order or legal hold, is the actual process that the party to whom a spoliation letter was written engages in. When litigation is pending or anticipated, the organization has a duty to start the legal hold process:

Litigation readiness

When you decide to pursue legal actions for a truck injury, gather a legal team to oversee the process. Having an experienced team of lawyers to support you and walk you through this process will help you receive the proper compensation.

What to Include in a Spoliation Letter

There can be verbal triggers for litigation even before a letter is written, yet to trigger the legal process on paper via a spoliation letter will give a reasonable anticipation of litigation. When the individual or company is notified, they are obligated to preserve evidence. You want to make sure you know what should be included in the document retention notice so the notice is complete and solid.

  • Identify what information needs to be preserved.
  • Identify who is in charge of the relevant information and evidence needed for your case. This may require interviewing people like IT employees about how accessible electronic documents are and who has access to the information you’re requesting.
  • There are many sample preservation letters out there, yet every truck accident is different; your case in unique to you.

Legal hold release notice sample topics often include:

  • Video footage
  • Inspection records
  • Repair records
  • Maintenance records
  • “Black box” data, or data from the engine’s electronic control monitor
  • Freight and loading information
  • The driver’s personnel file
  • Emails
  • Paperwork
  • Spreadsheets
  • Text messages
  • Voicemails
  • Phone records
  • Databases
  • Network share, also known as user’s network share or file share
  • Mobile devices

Note: These are suggestions for what may be relevant information. We advise you to contact an attorney or talk with your attorney about specifics regarding your case.

Writing the Notice

Once you have all of the information, writing the legal hold is the next step. Some writing tools to consider are:

  • Write in a timely manner. The faster a litigation hold can be sent out, the less risk there is for items to be destroyed.
  • Describe the situation so everyone who reads the document has an understanding of what is happening.
  • Be specific about the information and documents you want to have preserved. Provide examples of what you’re looking for if a term seems vague or has legal jargon.
  • Define the scope of the case. If more has been discovered that can be used as evidence that was not included in the original litigation hold letter, talk to your lawyer about revisiting and revising the notice. Scope also includes date ranges for what you’re requesting preservation of.
  • Address the custodians (the people you’re writing to) and let them know that they have an obligation to keep and protect what you’ve requested. Know that other custodians are in charge of different facets of information and should also read the letter.
  • Ask for a notice of receipt.

Who Receives the Litigation Hold?

  • Custodians who potentially have relevant information, including the head of the business, the head of departments, the employees (departing and active), IT personnel, and/or managers.
  • In order to make sure everyone who needs to be involved in the legal hold understands the case, it may be advantageous to meet with them and actually discuss the spoliation letter and case itself.
  • There are situations where you will want to send a litigation hold letter to a third party. When the amount of information is too much for the company or their information is monitored by another company, it’s not practical to expect all information be preserved by the company at hand. There is also a possibility, depending on the court circuit, that companies may not have legal control of the documents you wish to see. That is when you identify if a third party is involved, and send them a document retention notice (legal hold).

Legal Hold Notice Response

  • Keeping in constant contact with custodians is not realistic. Yet, in order to guarantee the custodians are doing their part in preserving information, checking in from time to time is useful.
    • Send reminder notices
    • Keep the hold in place until it is no longer needed
    • Getting a notice of receipt is effective; that way you’ll know the letter was received and the company is taking actions to retrieve and preserve evidence. This is why it’s important to ask for a legal hold notice response.
    • If a legal hold notice response is not given and the opposing party does destroy material, there could be punitive sanctions involved for that company.

Opposing Party Identifies and Monitors Information:

This part of the process is the preservation of evidence requested. The opposing party should:

  • Respond to your spoliation letter
  • Ask questions if there isn’t a clear definition or example in the notice
  • Store all records in one secure location
  • Keep all original documents; possibly make copies but always keep the originals

Final Notification That Matter Is Resolved:

When everything is collected and the claim if finalized, a litigation hold can be released.

Ending Notes and Tips for Writing 

  • Keep on top of the legal hold. It’s important to not procrastinate in gathering the information you need.
  • Trucking companies have insurance agencies that will start investigating right away. Being represented by an experienced law firm will help you build a strong case.
  • Document everything. From the start of the litigation process until its conclusion, make sure you have everything together.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

We understand that medical bills, insurance conversations, and more while focusing on recovery can feel overwhelming after an accident. If you or a family member have been injured in a truck-related accident, contact the team of experienced Indianapolis truck accident lawyers of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. We can help you with the support of navigating legal complexities and seeking the compensation you deserve.

Contact Us

Let WKW put our experience to work for you. Contact us for your free case evaluation.

Or, call us today at (317) 920-6400

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