Parties in a personal injury case have to take great care in maintaining evidence that may be relevant to the case, even if litigation has not yet begun. In one recent case before Georgia’s Supreme Court, the Court considered whether the defendant was properly sanctioned for failing to preserve evidence. The case may not seem as though it pertains to Georgia personal injury cases, however, the court’s decision applies equally to personal injury cases in which one of the parties is alleged to have destroyed, altered, or failed to preserve necessary evidence.
The Facts of the Case
A woman took photos of what she claimed was a bug in her food while she was eating at a work cafeteria. She emailed photos to the building superintendent, and also sent the photos to Walgreens to be printed before delivering them to her superintendent the following day. The food vendor was removed from the list of qualified vendors and later filed a claim as a result of the incident. Almost ten years later, the vendor became aware that there were printed photos in addition to the emailed photos. The superintendent did not provide the photos to the food vendor and admitted that he lost the printed photos at some point. The digital versions were still available, and the superintendent and the employee testified that the photos were identical, although the defendants disputed that fact.
The plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence due to the defendant’s failure to preserve the printed photos. The trial court found that the superintendent had been aware of the claim but still failed to preserve the printed photos or provide them to his employer’s lawyers. As a result, the trial court imposed a sanction for failing to preserve the printed photos. It decided it would provide a jury instruction stating that “spoliation of evidence creates a rebuttable presumption that the evidence would have been harmful to the spoliator.”