A state appellate court recently released an opinion in a Georgia car accident case discussing the state’s spoliation doctrine as it pertains to relevant evidence that was accidentally destroyed by a third party before trial. The spoliation doctrine is an important one for Georgia personal injury victims to understand because it can result in serious sanctions against the party that destroys or fails to preserve relevant evidence.
The Case’s Facts
The plaintiff was a widower, the surviving spouse of a woman who died when the vehicle she was driving hydroplaned after encountering standing water on the highway. The allegations were that the defendant city failed to keep a storm drain clear, resulting in the excess water accumulating on the road’s surface.
Evidently, after the accident, the plaintiff’s vehicle got towed to a scrap yard. The scrap yard demanded the plaintiff pay storage fees, or else the vehicle would be destroyed. Initially, the scrap yard contacted the plaintiff directly, but later the plaintiff’s attorney stepped in as the contact person. The plaintiffs’ attorney specifically asked that the vehicle be stored.
Apparently, the scrap yard tried to contact the plaintiff for additional payment. Regardless of that fact, the scrap yard only had an old address for the plaintiff, and the plaintiff did not ever receive the correspondence. After not hearing from the plaintiff, the scrap yard destroyed the vehicle. At no point did the scrap yard reach out to the plaintiff’s attorney before destroying the car.
The defendant city argued that the court should impose sanctions against the plaintiff for failing to ensure that the car was preserved pending trial. The trial court agreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims.
The Court’s Opinion
The court rejected the city’s request for sanctions. The court explained that the dismissal of a complaint is an appropriate sanction in some situations, but should generally be reserved for more flagrant violations of a party’s duty to preserve evidence. The court opined that a court should consider whether the destroying party acted in good faith, the importance of the evidence, the prejudice caused by the missing evidence, and the potential that the prejudice could be cured.
Here, the court noted that the evidence was not destroyed by the plaintiff, but by the scrap yard. The court went on to note that the plaintiff arranged for the storage of the car, and the plaintiff’s attorney followed-up to ensure that the vehicle was safely stored. Therefore, the court decided that, at most, the plaintiff was negligent in failing to preserve the evidence and that such negligence did not warrant dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.
Injured in a Georgia Vehicle Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Georgia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Georgia personal injury lawsuit. At McAleer Law, we represent Georgia injury victims in a wide range of personal injury claims and have decades of experience successfully negotiating with insurance companies on behalf of our clients. If the other side refuses to engage in fair negotiations, we will not hesitate to take your case to trial. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with a Georgia injury lawyer, call 404-622-5337.
See More Posts:
Evidence of an Accident Victim’s Failure to Wear a Seatbelt Is Prohibited in Georgia Personal Injury Trials, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, October 18, 2018.
Court Considers Whether Roadway Contractors Are Liable for Georgia Car Crash, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, October 1, 2018.