Georgia Supreme Court Reverses Discovery Sanction for Party’s Failure to Preserve Evidence

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.”

Spoliation of Evidence

Spoliation refers to the destruction or failure to preserve evidence that is relevant to contemplated litigation or pending litigation. If spoliation occurs, it may warrant a rebuttable presumption that the evidence would have been harmful to the party that destroyed or failed to preserve it. A trial court has substantial discretion in deciding whether a party engaged in spoliation and what the remedy should be. However, the “most severe sanctions” should be used only in “exceptional cases.” Exceptional cases are generally cases in which a party lost or destroyed material evidence deliberately in bad faith and prejudiced the opposing party “in an incurable way.” In contrast, spoliation that is the result of negligence, “should result in lesser sanctions,” or none at all.

The Court’s Decision

Here, the court explained that the sanction was one of the most severe sanctions available. Thus, the court reasoned that because the trial court did not find that the employer acted deliberately or in bad faith or caused the plaintiff to suffer incurable prejudice, the trial court should not have imposed such a severe sanction.

Contact a Dedicated Georgia Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or someone you love has recently been injured in any kind of Georgia accident, contact the dedicated Georgia personal injury lawyers at McAleer Law. At McAleer Law, we have been skillfully assisting Georgia injury victims for over fifteen years, and know what it takes to succeed on our clients’ behalves. We represent injury victims in Georgia car accidents, slip-and-fall accident, wrongful death cases, and medical malpractice cases. Our goal is to get our clients the money they deserve through aggressive and compassionate representation. We have a proven record of success and recover millions of dollars in settlements and favorable jury verdicts for our clients each year. Contact us today at 404-622-5337 or by filling out our online form.

See More Posts:

Georgia Car Accidents Involving Inexperienced Drivers, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, January 14, 2019.

McAleer Law Secures a $9,000,000 Settlement for a Family that Lost their Father in a Wrongful Death Case Involving a Big Rig and a Motorcycle, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, February 8, 2019.