One of the most critical parts of a Florida personal injury lawsuit is the pre-trial discovery process. During pre-trial discovery, parties can request relevant information from the other side. If the court approves a request for discovery, the court will order that the evidence is passed to the opposing party, regardless of whether that evidence is favorable to the other side or whether the side in possession of the evidence plans to use it at trial.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, preserving all evidence – even unfavorable evidence – is of critical importance in a Florida personal injury lawsuit. Under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, parties have an obligation to preserve evidence as soon as litigation is “reasonably anticipated.” Thus, a party’s obligation to preserve evidence may arise before a lawsuit is filed. A party’s failure to preserve relevant evidence is referred to as “spoliation.”
Under Rule 1.380 of the Florida Rule of Civil Procedure, a court can impose sanctions on a party that was found to have violated a discovery order. Examples of a violation of a discovery order include refusing to answer a question in a deposition or responding with an evasive or incomplete answer. The sanctions a court can impose range in seriousness, but can include the outright dismissal of a claim or default judgment being entered against a party.
As noted above, a party can also be sanctioned for the failure to preserve relevant evidence. Sanctions for the spoliation of evidence may include the imposition of a rebuttable presumption that can have the effect of shifting the burden of proof. In other words, a court could instruct a jury that had specific evidence been preserved it may have disfavored the party that failed to preserve it. This is called an adverse inference.
In a 2006 appellate opinion, the court held that the mere destruction of relevant evidence that is unfavorable could result in an adverse inference if the court finds:
- The evidence existed;
- The party had a duty to preserve the evidence; and
- The evidence was critical to the opposing party’s case or defense.
Of course, in certain egregious cases of spoliation, a court could dismiss a plaintiff’s claim or enter a default judgment against a party.
Have You Been Injured in a Florida Personal Injury Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Florida personal injury accident, you should contact the dedicated South Florida injury lawyers at Cecere Santana, Attorneys at Law as soon as possible to discuss the facts of your case. At Cecere Santana, we have decades of experience successfully assisting our clients in obtaining the compensation they need and deserve through a variety of South Florida personal injury claims. This includes car accidents, slip-and-fall cases, and product liability claims. To learn more, call 800-753-5529 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation with one of our experienced South Florida personal injury attorneys today.
See Additional Blog Posts:
In Drunk Driving Accidents, Bar May Also be Responsible, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, October 9, 2018.
Three Killed in Florida Roadside Accident, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, published November 12, 2018.