Even without the recently enacted federal and state rules related to electronic data discovery and case precedent interpreting them, the e-discovery landscape for trucking litigation was poised for a sea change in 2011 with the passage of new safety standards for the industry. With the addition of new messaging systems and trip recorders, electronic control modules and satellite tracking equipment, e-discovery has become a "brave new world" for lawyers bringing suit against a trucking company or defending one against a claim.
In the trucking industry, e-discovery rules can affect the entire gamut of commercial carriers. The safety features and technology used in today's trucks will continue to increase the burden on the e-discovery process in these lawsuits -- as opposed to the process in recent years, when a paper format was more common.
The trucking industry has undergone noteworthy regulatory changes, which have eventuated new e-discovery issues. In 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) launched the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program to toughen safety requirements for commercial motor carriers. This was done to hold trucking companies to a higher standard, and one result is an enhanced ability to gather data during discovery.
And there are a large number of sources of electronically discoverable information to be found within a trucking company. Most commercial carriers use satellite tracking and monitoring devices on trucks to track loads, trailers, and trucks. This is particularly true of large, national outfits. These satellite systems allow quick communication with drivers, but a lot of the electronic information that is transmitted is discoverable evidence in litigation.
One of the more common examples of these satellite systems would be Qualcomm's computer hardware, which is installed on a tractor truck and communicates with satellites in orbit around the planet. In addition to allowing truckers and dispatchers to send text messages about their trips in quick fashion, these systems also allow drivers to record their driving time and submit driving log information that in the past would have been done via paper logs.
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By: J. Kent Emison