In a recent case, a woman sued a tire manufacturer after her husband died in a tragic car accident. She alleged that the company was liable based on negligent design and manufacturing, strict liability, and failure to warn, arising from the tire’s tread separation. The parties exchanged discovery, and during that period, the company learned the woman had kept only the “carcass” of the tire from the accident. The issue arose whether the woman should have retained the entire vehicle, and if so, whether she should face any court sanctions for destroying the vehicle.
Apparently, after the accident had occurred, a service came to transport the wrecked car. The owner of the service later told the woman she was incurring a daily storage fee to keep the car there. The company’s owner offered to sell the car to a salvage yard in exchange for waiving the fee. The car had been totaled, so the woman did not see any reason to keep the car and agreed to allow the owner to sell the car. At the time, the woman’s husband was still alive in critical condition and had told the woman the tire had blown up and caused the accident. Thus, thinking the tire may be a necessary piece of evidence, the woman told the owner to keep the left rear tire. Although the tire itself was saved, the remnants of the detached tread, the other tires, and the wheel on which the tire was mounted were all destroyed.
Because of the woman’s actions, evidence relevant to the lawsuit had been destroyed. As a result, the tire company moved to dismiss the complaint or to bar the woman from presenting evidence to rebut the company’s defense as a sanction for the woman’s conduct. A Georgia court denied the company’s motion and declined to sanction her for her conduct. A Georgia appeals court upheld the decision. The court agreed that it was not reasonably foreseeable for the woman at the time to have known litigation would occur. Thus, her duty to preserve evidence was not triggered, and she was not sanctioned.
Spoliation of Evidence
Spoliation is a legal term meaning to destroy, fail to preserve, or materially alter evidence relevant to “contemplated or pending” litigation. That is, if a party is involved in a lawsuit, or it is foreseeable that one will occur, the party has a duty to preserve relevant evidence. Often, spoliation disputes arise because a defendant has destroyed evidence before litigation began, which the plaintiff argues it should have preserved. However, sometimes a plaintiff may destroy relevant evidence, as in the case above.
If a party destroys, fails to maintain, or alters evidence, the court may impose sanctions. Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the evidence, the sanctions can be as serious as the dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint or a default judgment against a defendant. For this reason, it is extremely important for potential plaintiffs to be careful about preserving potentially relevant evidence, even before litigation has begun. Additionally, it is important for accident victims to consult with a dedicated attorney as soon as practicable to discuss the rights they may have to recovery and how they can preserve those rights.
Have You Been Injured?
Personal injury claims can range from minor injuries like a broken bone or whiplash to more serious conditions like paralysis and even death. No amount of money can ever replace a parent, spouse, or child in a wrongful death claim, but surviving family members still have the right to be compensated. At the McAleer Law Firm, our attorneys diligently handle every case and fight for our clients’ rights from beginning to end. Our firm’s attorneys are experienced in personal injury and wrongful death claims, and we are ready to help those injured due to the negligence of others. Call us at 404-622-5337 or contact us through our online form today for a free consultation.
See More Posts:
Plaintiff Who Was Struck By Drunk Driver Sues Bar, Several Claims Dismissed in Recent Opinion, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, December 12, 2016.
Woman Fails to File Expert Affidavit in Medical Malpractice Claim but Able To Proceed Regardless, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, November 17, 2016.