Cross-Examining the “Safety Director” of a Trucking Company in Deposition
In this truck accident case, Butler Kahn traveled from Georgia to New York to take the deposition of the defendant company’s safety director. This company’s truck had rolled into our client while our client was standing beside his own vehicle, crushing him between the vehicles. The company’s principal defense, which we sought to dismantle, was the that the brake pedal in this rented truck was “worn,” causing the driver’s foot to slip off of it.
Postscript. When the discovery period in this case ended, we were ready for trial. We asked the defense lawyers to join us in asking the Court for a trial date. The defense dragged its feet and would not join our request. We wrote a letter to the Court anyway, explaining that the case was ready for trial and asking for a trial date. The Court set a pre-trial hearing and put us on track for a trial in DeKalb County, Georgia. A few days before the pre-trial hearing, we went to a mediation at the defense’s request and the insurer offered our client enough to settle the case.
Tips for taking the deposition of a safety director or trucking company executive:
- Think about what really matters in your case. Blindly following an outline accomplishes little. (At our firm, we do not have a standard “safety director” outline—we prepare the cross-examination from scratch, every time.) Think critically about what you need to present your case to a jury, and how you can get it.
- Keep a running list of cross-examination ideas. At our firm, from intake to trial, we keep a running list of cross-examination ideas and trial thoughts. When it is time to prepare to depose a safety director, that’s where we look first.
- Take the deposition on video, every time. You may get a reaction from the witness that you can never recreate.
- Know the rules. Study the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”), applicable CDL Manual, applicable state traffic laws, and materials from third parties like J.J. Keller.
- Know your court. Study the Court’s standing order or local rules so you’ll know what to do if opposing counsel starts coaching the witness or making speaking objections.
- Before the deposition, press the truck company in discovery to respond fully and completely to all important discovery requests. Too few lawyers do this. Then study what you get, including the policy manuals and driver qualification file (“DQF”). You need to know the facts before you depose corporate representatives.
- Don’t waste time arguing with the witness. If the witness lies, prove the truth and move to your next point. “Never wrestle with a pig—because you both get muddy, and the pig likes it.”
Watch clips from other depositions of safety directors and trucking company executives by Butler Kahn: