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Practice tip for trucking lawyers: Send FOIA requests early in your cases to FMSCA

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 16th, 2016

This time-sensitive legal tip will help you find proofs on the trucking company’s negligence before it’s too late

FOIA truck accident case

One common mistake that many plaintiff personal injury lawyers make, especially when they’re relatively new to trucking litigation, is waiting to send a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) early on in the case. Or worse, failing to send a FOIA request at all.

Attorneys should send a FOIA request out almost immediately, as the turnaround time can be lengthy. This is especially true if the trucking company that caused the truck accident that injured your client has a particularly long history and many interactions with the Agency.

If you delay for any significant period of time, you run the risk of missing out on critical safety information and documents prior to your key discovery depositions; specifically, the safety director. Some requests can take so long to process that your entire discovery period may be over by the time you receive the documents! And many judges will frown upon attempts to amend pleadings and add statutory counts for negligent entrustment or negligent supervision, if it can be shown the reason for the delay was simply the plaintiff attorney’s lack of diligence in pursuing discovery.

What a truck accident lawyer is looking for in the FMCSA documents

The FMSCA should have records that provide a history of safety regulation violations by the trucking company defendant in your lawsuit.

This goes far beyond the summary information that’s available for attorneys and the public online – especially since the agency sadly has recently scaled back on what information is now accessible for attorneys and the public.

Of particular importance is the Form OP-1 and Form MCS-150 – both of which prove that and the trucking company itself acknowledged and agreed to abide by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

There’s also crucial information about regulatory fines, agency intervention, agency correspondence, compliance reviews and safety ratings, inspection reports (both driver and vehicle), and much more within these files.

In short – the FOIA request to the FMSCA is a critical step in litigating your truck accident case and pursuing a just and fair injury settlement or trial verdict for your client and his or her family.

Don’t forget the regional service centers and state offices

In addition to sending your request to the agency’s head office, you should also send requests to the regional service center and the state office where your defendant trucking company is located. Alternatively, you may also request that these offices be checked as opposed to sending out separate requests. Whatever you prefer as the truck accident lawyer is up to you – so long as it is all requested.

Here are instructions on how to send a FOIA request, and the mailing addresses of the regional service centers and state offices.


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About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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