We prove personal injury claims at trial by presenting evidence. That much is obvious. Although sometimes third parties have important evidence, often the most vital evidence is in the hands of the Plaintiff (the injured person) or the Defendant (the negligent party).
How Evidence is Lost
In the movies, parties to a trial secretly destroy or lose vital evidence to a case that could work against them. In real life, lost or damaged evidence is often the result of more innocent events. For example, a video recorder that records over itself automatically, erasing vital evidence, or a Plaintiff injured by a defective product who innocently throws the product out.
We often think of the negligent party as the one who could destroy or lose evidence—they are the ones being sued, and they are the ones at risk of having to pay significant sums. But often, it is the injured party that loses or destroys evidence.
In many cases, losing evidence may be instinctive. For example, someone who breaks a tooth on a foreign object in food, may instinctively throw the object away (or spit it out and then throw it away). Someone who has a defective or malfunctioning product may instinctively get the product fixed.
This may happen even with Defendants. A homeowner who has someone to their house who is injured when a chair collapses may instinctively throw away the chair. It is broken, after all. But that chair is evidence in a possible claim.
Spoliation is Serious
No matter how evidence is lost or destroyed, there can be severe consequences when it happens. The law provides for what is known as spoliation of evidence. Spoliation is the loss or damage to vital evidence that a party needs to either bring or defend a case.
The ramifications for destroying evidence can be severe. The court can allow the jury to assume that the evidence, if it existed, would work against the party that lost or destroyed it.
So, in our chair example above, if there were a dispute over whether the chair was defective, or the person sitting on it when it collapsed was someone misusing it, if the chair is destroyed, the judge can instruct the jury to assume the chair was defective.
Aside from spoliation, losing evidence can simply create proof problems. Someone who breaks a tooth on a foreign object but does not preserve the object may have a tough time proving their case before a jury.
Limits on Preservation
It is not a violation to destroy anything that may be evidence. There is no legal obligation to preserve every item that could possibly ever be evidence in a lawsuit. The obligation comes into play when a claim has been made or when a lawsuit is anticipated or imminent.
It is always best that if you are looking to repair, modify, destroy, or alter anything that could be related to your injury, that you seek legal advice before doing so. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss the handling of evidence in your personal injury claim.