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What Can I Do If Someone Destroys Evidence

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Published in Evidence on November 16, 2016.

This may sound obvious, but evidence is crucial in a lawsuit. Without evidence, a plaintiff cannot prove his or her claims are true, and a defendant cannot assert any defenses. It’s important to understand spoliation of evidence and the legal repercussions for knowingly committing it. There are several best practices both sides of a lawsuit should keep in mind to prevent vital evidence from being lost and to avoid legal entanglements borne from a spoliation inference (in a civil case) or a criminal charge.

Definition of Spoliation of Evidence

Spoliation of evidence describes any instance in which something or someone destroys a piece of evidence in a lawsuit or the evidence goes missing. Spoliation also applies to instances in which anyone involved in a case hides or refuses to produce evidence. To qualify as spoliation, the evidence in question must meet two criteria:

  • The evidence must be under that party’s control. For example, if an x-ray record is vital to a case, but the radiology office somehow misplaced or destroyed the record, the patient could not be held responsible for spoliation as the record was not under his or her direct control.
  • The party must be aware that the evidence had relevance in a lawsuit. If the party accused of spoliation of evidence had no reasonable way of knowing the evidence in question was important to a lawsuit, it cannot be held accountable for spoliation.

Spoliation of evidence may be unintentional in some cases, and it may be difficult to prove the destruction or loss of the evidence was an honest mistake. However, intentionally withholding, destroying, or hiding evidence is also a criminal offense. Depending on the nature of the evidence, the party accused of spoliation can face severe legal penalties, including heavy fines and jail time.

Effects on a Case

A defendant who knowingly destroys evidence is also going to have a tough time in the courtroom. Although a person may assume that destroying, hiding, or withholding evidence will prevent a jury from finding against him or her, doing so has the opposite of this intended effect. In most cases, a judge will advise the jury to consider the defendant’s actions as an indication of his or her “consciousness of guilt.” In other words, the defendant destroyed the evidence because he or she is truly responsible for the allegations underlying the lawsuit and wished to avoid responsibility.

Spoliation of evidence can have drastic effects on a lawsuit. If you believe you may be involved in any type of legal issue in the near future, it’s important that you do not interfere with any evidence that could be relevant to the case. If you are the injured party, the evidence will help solidify your claim and push your case toward a successful resolution. If you are the defendant, destroying or interfering with evidence in any way is going to hurt your case far more than it might help.

After an injury-causing incident, it’s important for the injured party to seek medical care as soon as possible. Both parties in any such incident should exercise the utmost care when it comes to preserving any potential evidence. Consulting with an experienced lawyer will be a wise decision.

Your attorney will help guide you through the claims process. Additionally, your attorney can also help prevent spoliation of evidence by notifying the other party of your lawsuit in a timely manner. If you wait too long to file your complaint, the other party may unintentionally destroy vital evidence or otherwise render it useless. By notifying the defendant of your intent to sue as soon as possible, you help preserve the evidence that will be vital for your case.

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