Earlier this month, a federal court of appeals issued an opinion in a product liability case involving an employee who was injured while on the job by a piece of falling scaffolding. In the case, Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding, the court had to decide what to do with the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant intentionally lost or destroyed the very piece of scaffolding that caused his injuries. Ultimately, the court upheld the plaintiff’s right to seek compensation for his injuries by holding that the lower court applied an improper standard when dismissing the plaintiff’s case.
Schaefer was employed by Brand Energy, a construction company. Brand Energy was contracted by Dynery to complete work on a power plant. Universal Scaffolding manufactured the scaffolding that Brand Energy used on the job, but Dynergy purchased the scaffolding. Employees of Brand had difficulty assembling the scaffolding because it kept coming apart at the joints. Schaefer was walking below some of the scaffolding when he was struck on the head by a piece that had come loose. He filed a product liability claim against Universal Scaffolding, as well as related claims against Brand Energy and Dynergy. Relevant to this discussion is Schaefer’s claim against Universal Scaffolding.
Before trial, Universal Scaffolding told Schaefer and his attorneys that they no longer had the piece of scaffolding that had fallen and allegedly caused his injuries. Schaefer asked the court to impose sanctions against Universal Scaffolding for failing to preserve the material and relevant evidence. However, the trial court determined that, although Schaefer could not succeed without the evidence, he did not show that he would have succeeded at trial with the evidence, and the case was dismissed.
Schaefer appealed, arguing that the lower court’s standard put him in a Catch-22 in that he couldn’t prove that he needed the evidence without actually having it to show the court. The appellate court agreed with Schaefer, holding that the lower court applied too strict a standard. Instead of requiring Schaefer to show that he would have been successful at trial, the lower court should have asked if Schaefer had a “reasonable probability” of succeeding at trial if the evidence had been preserved. Since the lower court applied the wrong rule of law, the case was remanded back to that court to apply the correct standard.
Spoliation of Evidence in Virginia
Under Virginia law, when a party loses or destroys evidence that should have been passed to the opposing party at trial, the opposing party is entitled to an adverse inference instruction. An adverse inference instruction informs the jury to assume that had the evidence been presented, it would have been unfavorable to the party that failed to produce it. This can have a major impact in personal injury cases, and it is very important to obtain this instruction whenever possible.
Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Personal Injury Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Virginia personal injury accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. It is imperative for your case that an experienced attorney get involved from the ground floor to ensure that all requests for favorable evidence are filed as quickly as possible. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Virginia law firm of The Schupak Law Firm have the experience and dedication necessary to hold responsible parties accountable for their actions. With decades of experience standing up for the rights of injured Virginians, Attorney Sidney Schupak and his team of lawyers know what it takes to be successful in Virginia courtrooms. Call 703-491-7070 to set up a free consultation today.
See More Blog Posts:
A Business’ Obligation to Keep Its Customers Safe, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, October 17, 2016.
What Happens When an Insurance Company Acts in Bad Faith and Refuses to Settle a Case?, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, October 12, 2016.