When involved in any sort of accident or incident where you suffer injury and wish to take legal action against the at-fault party, your attorneys begin by building a strong case on your behalf. Much of this case hinges on demonstrating how the accident caused you harm – whether a driver broke traffic laws, a trucking company cut corners on safety, or a pharmaceutical company put contaminated drugs on the market.
In other words, the strength of a personal injury case relies on evidence. However, it is crucial to ensure all evidence related to your case remains available, which is the fair and proper thing to do in the event of a legal claim. This is why spoliation of evidence can become a big issue during litigation, and why you need a skilled attorney to protect your case.
What does “spoliation of evidence” mean?
Spoliation of evidence is a term applying to legal claims and litigation, and occurs when one party attempts to or does conceal, tamper with, or destroy evidence that could be favorable to the opposing party. Alabama’s Rules of Civil Procedure, for example, addresses a party’s failure to preserve evidence:
If electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and if it cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, the court: (1) upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information, may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or (2) only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of use of the information in the litigation, may:
(A) presume that the lost information was unfavorable to the party responsible for its loss; (B) instruct the jury that it may or must presume the information was unfavorable to the party responsible for its loss; or (C) dismiss the action or enter a default judgment.
Once evidence is lost, however, it is lost. Without the evidence you need to prove fault, you may miss out on the opportunity to recover the proper and fair compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses. This is why having your attorney draft a spoliation letter can help preserve evidence valuable to your case.
Spoliation letters for preservation of evidence, explained
A spoliation letter is much what it sounds like – a letter to another party, usually the opposing one, requesting the preservation of certain evidence relevant to your case. For example, if you were injured in an accident with a commercial truck, important evidence and documents related to your case might include:
- Driver hour-of-service logs
- Black boxes
- Employment history and records
- In-cabin video/audio logs
- Truck maintenance logs
- Video or photo evidence of the scene
- Damaged truck and trailer
Although a defendant in an injury case has an obligation to preserve and provide evidence and documents when appropriate, not everyone does the right thing, and this is why spoliation letters are necessary. Letters of spoliation can demand preservation of certain pieces of evidence to ensure they are not lost or destroyed. In some cases, like with retail surveillance video, footage can be destroyed after a certain period expires. A letter of spoliation can request the preservation of that footage.
When should I send a letter of spoliation?
Your attorney will draft and send requests to preserve evidence; however, the best time to send a letter of spoliation is typically as soon as a legal claim is imminent. It is crucial to preserve as much evidence as possible as soon as possible, by putting the other party “on notice” about your claim and the incident from which your injuries arose.
When the other party refuses to comply with this letter, they may be subject to sanctions by the court. These sanctions will depend on the information destroyed and the intent with which it was destroyed or tampered with. Typically, however, the court will assume that any evidence destroyed was done so because it was damaging to the party who destroyed it.
What should a spoliation letter include?
The exact details of a spoliation letter should be left up to your attorney, but generally, you should consider the following:
- Send out a preservation of evidence request as soon as possible. This mitigates the risk of important evidence being destroyed.
- Explain the nature of the injury claim and be specific about the information and documents you need preserved.
- Define the entire scope of the claim, including date and time periods, and any other relevant information. If this changes later, contact your attorneys as soon as possible so they can revise and update the request.
- Ensure all relevant parties acknowledge receipt of the letter and understand they are legally obligated to preserve the requested evidence.
Examples of parties who may receive a preservation of evidence request include anyone with information relevant to your injury and accident – including at-fault drivers, business owners, employees, IT personnel, mechanics, managers, first responders, medical professionals, insurance adjusters, and other parties.
Your attorney will work to ensure follow-up, as well as collecting and analyzing all evidence to build the strongest possible case on your behalf.
When you or a loved one suffer serious injury in an accident that wasn’t your fault, the Huntsville attorneys at Martin & Helms can help. We work from the ground up to build a strong claim, advocating for you every step of the way to recover the compensation to which you are entitled for your injuries and losses. To schedule a consultation with a member of our experienced team, call 256-539-1990 or fill out our contact form. We also have offices in Decatur, and proudly serve clients in Athens, Madison, and throughout North Alabama.