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Why attorneys should always FOIA the FMSCA

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 8th, 2016

Sending a Freedom of Information request can change your entire case

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Last week, we wrote about the great checklists provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA), that can help attorneys to uncover the key federal regulations and safety violations that lay behind every truck accident. Attorneys should do this right away, so no act of negligence falls through the cracks.

This week, we’d like to continue our series on tips and traps for lawyers who handle truck accidents by discussing the importance and benefits of sending a FOIA request to the FMSCA.

How sending a FOIA can uncover patterns of serious safety violations by a trucking company

Often, the FMSCA will have extensive records on the safety regulation violations by a particular trucking company — and these records often go far beyond the summary information that’s available online. A Freedom of Information Act request can produce this information. Send your letter immediately upon being retained for the best results.

I’ve been litigating truck accident cases for over 20 years, and I don’t recall the FMCSA being so slow and backlogged responding to these requests as they are today. It is taking me roughly 7 months to get this information back as I write this. That’s why I advise lawyers who ask me to co-counsel with them on truck wreck cases or when I speak at legal seminars on this topic that it is so critical that a lawyer send this FOIA right away. Waiting six months to a year to see how serious the injuries are or if your client will still be off work often means you are butting up against the strict scheduling order and discovery dates that many federal and state court judges will give you after you file a lawsuit. Better to have this information early than to get it late.

Here’s a recent blog post we wrote on the importance of timely FOIAing, with additional practice tips: Send FOIA requests early in your cases to FMCSA.

TRAP: Waiting too long to FOIA and missing the retention period

Safety-regulation violation information is not saved forever. Truck company records, including safety violations and evidence that can actually prove negligence after a serious wreck, can be legally destroyed on a rolling basis. The longer you take to request the documents, the more information disappears.

Steven Gursten Photo

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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