Spoliation is defined in an online legal dictionary (based upon the well-respected Black's Law Dictionary) as: "The intentional concealment destruction, alteration or mutilation of evidence, usually documents making them unusable or invalid." At one time, Florida had an independent legal claim for spoliation but, as has been seen in many states, the independent tort has been eliminated in favor of relying on an evidentiary rule (at least when the claim involves the opposing party in the underlying case).
Details of the Spoliation Rule
Federal and state courts operate pursuant to distinct but often quite similar sets of evidentiary rules. These principles are developed in judge-made law (i.e. rules declared in court rulings, especially by the highest court) and found in the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Florida Rules of Evidence, and the Rules of Civil Procedure for state and federal courts. Both systems allow for sanctions when a party fails to comply with discovery obligations. The severity of sanctions varies.
Florida law requires that a party seeking spoliation sanctions must show: 1) The evidence once existed; 2) The party alleged to have destroyed the evidence had a duty to preserve it; 3) The evidence was necessary to proving the case or defense of the party seeking the sanctions. In addition to these elements, the party seeking a sanction must also show the other party acted in bad faith.
In some cases, courts have found that the destruction of evidence by the plaintiff warranted the complete dismissal of the case. In other cases (including where the defense is the spoliator), a court can use a "spoliation inference" to conclude that the evidence was unfavorable to the party that destroyed it. The inference is embodied in a proposed addition to the Standard Jury Instructions in Civil Cases 301.11 which would direct a civil jury that it could, but is not required to, infer the spoliated evidence was unfavorable.
Applying the Rules to Help Panama City Injury Victims
The rules of evidence are complex. The complexity of the rules is one of the reasons that injured victims should always hire a Northwest Florida injury attorney, a lawyer who has the experience and the education to navigate this system of rules. When we initiate a civil case, our team often sends out preservation letters that direct the opposing party to preserve all potentially relevant evidence.
These letters help ensure the availability of the spoliation evidence should the defendant intentionally destroy documents or other physical evidence. The letters are one of the many ways we protect the interests of those injured in Panama City. If you have been injured due to someone else's negligence in Panama City or elsewhere in the Florida Panhandle region, please call to schedule a free consultation so we can put our knowledge and experience to work for you.
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