In personal injury cases, before a case reaches trial, the parties engage in the discovery process. Discovery is the stage of litigation at which the parties exchange requested information that is relevant to the case or may lead to the discovery of other relevant evidence.
The rules of discovery require that parties make certain evidence available for the opposing side, even if that evidence is not favorable to the party that possesses the evidence. Along those lines, the rules prohibit the destruction of discoverable evidence. A recent Georgia personal injury case takes a look at when a plaintiff’s obligation to preserve evidence arises.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who was involved in a serious car accident after the tread on one of his vehicle’s tires separated. After the accident, the plaintiff’s husband was taken to the hospital, where he remained unresponsive for several days.
During that time, the plaintiff’s car was being stored at a storage yard and was incurring a daily storage fee. The plaintiff told the operator of the storage yard she could not afford the storage fees, and the operator told her that if she were to sign the title over to him, he would waive all of the storage fees.
When the plaintiff’s husband became responsive, the plaintiff asked him what she should do with the car. Her husband responded that she should “save the tires.” The plaintiff signed the car over to the storage yard operator, asking him to save the blown tire. The plaintiff’s husband died a short time later.
Nearly two years later, the plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the tire. During discovery, the manufacturer requested all four tires that were on the vehicle. However, the plaintiff only had in her possession the allegedly defective tire. The defendant manufacturer then asked the court to impose sanctions against the plaintiff because she had failed to preserve relevant evidence.
The Court’s Analysis
The court held that the plaintiff did not violate any discovery rules when she allowed for the tires to be destroyed. The court explained that the duty to preserve evidence is the same for both plaintiffs and defendants and is triggered when litigation is reasonably foreseeable.
The court acknowledged that it can be tricky to establish when a plaintiff should reasonably foresee litigation because they are the party who initiates it. In some cases, the court held, actual knowledge will be easy to determine. However, here, it was clear to the court that the plaintiff did not have actual knowledge of pending or upcoming litigation.
The question of whether litigation was reasonably foreseeable, however, was more difficult to answer. The court acknowledged that the plaintiff’s husband’s comment to “save the tires” may have put the thought of litigation into the plaintiff’s head. However, the court also noted that this was the first time that the plaintiff had been involved in a personal injury case and that the plaintiff did not have experience with litigation. Thus, the court determined that there was not sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff should have reasonably foreseen upcoming litigation and dismissed the defendant manufacturer’s appeal.
Have You Been Injured in a Georgia Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, there may be important steps that you must take to preserve your rights and maintain your chance for a full and fair recovery. The dedicated injury lawyers at McAleer Law have the dedication and experience you need to feel comfortable throughout the process. Call 404-622-5337 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.
See More Posts:
Court Allows Evidence of Previous Accidents Involving Jeep Vehicles in Wrongful Death Case Against Chrysler, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, January 23, 2018.
Georgia Court Discusses Government Immunity in Recent Car Accident Case, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, January 10, 2018.