What happens when evidence goes missing in your personal injury case? Does lost or missing evidence equal a lost case? It depends a lot on what the evidence is, and what side of the courtroom you're on. Learn more about spoliation of evidence and personal injury cases -- and why it is important to act quickly if you think that you may have a case.
What is spoliation?
Spoliation of evidence is the legal term used when evidence goes missing, gets tampered with, or is lost. It doesn't matter whether the evidence was damaged or destroyed on purpose or by accident -- the legal impact is very serious.
What happens when spoliation occurs?
In general, both parties to a lawsuit are expected to take steps to retain as much evidence as possible -- whether it helps or hurts their case. When evidence disappears, the court can (and often will) instruct the jury that they can assume that the disappearance was engineered on purpose. They are also allowed to infer that it was done because there was something worth hiding -- something that would be detrimental to the case of whichever party had control of the evidence.
Keep in mind, however, that the court does not expect parties to a lawsuit to keep evidence if they had no idea that they expected to need it. In other words, if you threw something away before you knew there was about to be a lawsuit, you won't be penalized.
How does spoliation impact your case?
If you are the person who lost or destroyed the evidence, the impact on your case is a bad one (assuming that you knew about the lawsuit at the time). For example, assume that you are claiming that you found glass in your food from a popular restaurant. You save the food but somehow manage to misplace and lose the receipt. Even if it was just an honest mistake, the judge could very well instruct the jury that they can make a negative inference from the fact that the evidence is missing. The jury may decide -- with the court's consent -- that you were trying to hide the fact that you didn't purchase the food where you said you did, or when you said you did. Your case could very well fall through.
In addition, the court can also impose sanctions, which are fines leveled as punishment when the court believes that your actions were on purpose. For example, courts have sanctioned a popular moving equipment company for failure to preserve evidence and providing inaccurate records over the years because there is evidence that the spoliation was a pattern of behavior.
On the other hand, if you're not the person who lost or destroyed the evidence, this could be the best possible news for your case. In addition to the presumption that the evidence was favorable to you, the court can also award you punitive damages, which are a type of penalty that can be imposed on a defendant that is presumed to have behaved very unethically. Unlike sanctions, which are paid to the court, punitive damages are paid to the plaintiff in a case.
Why is it important to talk to an attorney quickly?
One of the reasons that it is so important to talk to a personal injury attorney as soon as you think you may need to file a claim is because your attorney can both advise you about the type of evidence you need to keep and send notices to the defendant in a potential case. Those notices serve as an official starting point, after which evidence that might prove your case has to be preserved -- with serious consequences possible if it isn't.Share
4 January 2016
When you are involved in a messy car accident, things can get complicated fast. In addition to proving who was at fault, you might also have to worry about healing. However, you don't have to endure long phone calls and complicated insurance paperwork on your own. Hiring an attorney is the key to remaining strong during the aftermath of a car accident. As you think about your own situation, try to figure out if you can do things on your own. If you feel like you need a little help, don't be afraid to talk with an attorney. The information on this website should help you to decide how legal counsel can help you.