Destroying Evidence Can Have Serious Consequences
In the movies or on TV, destruction of evidence is not only common, but fuels the plot of many courtroom dramas. The sight of someone secretly shredding the papers or burning the evidence that is needed to win a case is a compelling and dramatic sight on screen.
In real life, however, destroying evidence even accidentally can have serious consequences. While this can make life difficult for companies and defendants, for victims, the law provides some security that the evidence they need will be available when it comes time to build their case against the defendant.
Spoliation of Evidence
In most cases, the most important evidence needed to prove a case starts out in the possession of the defendant (the party being sued). The victim must use the rules of court to make the defendant turn over this evidence.
However spoliation applies to both the victim and the defendant, meaning that if an accident victim has something that could be evidence, the victim must take measures to protect and preserve it as well. Victims should be certain not to get cars repaired, or to avoid throwing out products that may have injured them, without first consulting with their attorneys.
If a party loses or destroys evidence that is crucial for the victim to prove his or her case, accidentally or intentionally, the court could find that the party spoliated the evidence.
The Dangers of Spoliation
A party spoliates evidence even when the destruction of evidence is accidental, such as when emails are routinely purged, or when a video camera automatically records over pre-existing video. Companies, people and government agencies must take action to avoid these accidental losses from happening when they know that the information could reasonably be used as evidence in a pending claim (a lawsuit does not actually have to be filed).
This is also why it’s important for victims to notify potential defendants of accidents and injuries as soon as possible. The notice may be when the obligation to preserve evidence begins for defendants.
Spoliating evidence can also prevent a witness from doing a proper investigation. So, for example, if an insurance company fixes brakes on a car knowing that they may be defective, depriving the expert of investigating them and testifying as to his or her findings, there may be a spoliation claim.
Penalties for Spoliation
When a party spoliates evidence, the penalties can vary. Generally, a jury will be allowed to assume that the evidence that was lost or destroyed would have been favorable to the party that needs it but could not obtain it. The court may ask the jury to “assume” that evidence would have said or revealed what the non-destroying party wanted it to say.
In more serious cases, a claim can be dismissed, or a defendant can be prevented from asserting a defense.
Do you have questions about injuries you sustained in an accident? Contact the Alabama personal injury attorneys at Lasseter Law Firm today to discuss whether you have a cause of action for damages.