During the discovery phase of a Virginia personal injury case, each of the parties can request that certain evidence is provided by the opposing side. As a general rule, parties must provide evidence when it is requested and ordered by the court, even if the evidence at issue is harmful to the case of the party who possesses it.
Given this reality, it may be tempting for a party who is in possession of adverse evidence to alter or destroy it. The legal term for the destruction or alteration of evidence is spoliation. Of course, the spoliation of evidence is prohibited, and parties who are found to have spoliated may face serious sanctions. One common sanction is an instruction to the jury allowing the jurors to take an adverse inference from the missing evidence. A recent case discusses this issue in detail.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall accident while a resident in the defendant nursing home. Evidently, the plaintiff’s fall was caught on video, which the nursing home administration was able to view several times. However, the nursing home did not preserve the video, and eventually, it was recorded over.
The plaintiff argued that the nursing home was under a duty to preserve the evidence, and that the trial court should instruct the jury that it could take an adverse inference because it was not preserved. The court agreed with the plaintiff, and the nursing home appealed.
The appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that there was insufficient evidence to provide the jury with an adverse inference instruction. The court first noted that there is a range of potential sanctions a court can take after determining that a party failed to preserve or destroyed evidence. The court also explained that jury instructions must be supported by evidence in the record.
Here, the court determined that there was no evidence that the nursing home acted in bad faith. Thus, the trial court’s decision to provide the jury with an adverse inference instruction was in error.
Negligent Spoliation in Virginia
The law regarding spoliation of evidence varies across jurisdictions. In Virginia, courts will not provide an adverse inference instruction unless the party seeking the instruction can present evidence that the party in possession of the evidence acted in bad faith.
Have You Been Injured and Need an Attorney?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Virginia accident, contact Attorney Charles B. Roberts, P.C. Attorney Roberts is a dedicated Virginia personal injury attorney with decades of experience zealously representing accident victims across the state in all personal injury claims, including Virginia car accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, and instances of nursing home negligence and abuse. To learn more about how Attorney Roberts can help you recover for the injuries you have sustained, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation today.
See More Blog Posts:
Employer Liability in Virginia Motor Vehicle Accidents, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, January 14, 2019.
The “Duty” Element of a Virginia Personal Injury Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, January 22, 2019