What Is Spoliation of Evidence?

When you file a personal injury lawsuit, your attorney must prove the at-fault party acted negligently. They rely on many pieces of evidence to craft a compelling case – but what happens if you lose a key piece of evidence that could make or break your case? What happens when the at-fault party intentionally destroys or withholds that piece of evidence?

Definition of Spoliation of Evidence

Spoliation of evidence occurs when the at-fault party in your lawsuit intentionally or negligently withholds, hides, alters, or destroys evidence relevant to your case. The spoliation of evidence is also known as destruction of evidence. Often, spoliation of evidence occurs when a claimant does not retain a personal injury attorney to request the evidence before the at-fault party destroys it.

Your attorney will have a very short window of time to send a detailed letter to the at-fault party requesting all pieces of relevant evidence. If your attorney does send this letter and the at-fault party still fails to present or preserve relevant evidence, the court will impose punitive action on the at-fault party. Your attorney will have to prove that the at-fault party engaged in spoliation of evidence for these sanctions to occur.

Examples of Spoliation of Evidence

Spoliation of evidence can occur in many different ways in all types of personal injury cases. Sanctions and punitive actions for spoliation range in severity based on the circumstances of the case. Usually, courts assume that the at-fault party destroyed the evidence because it contained information that would hurt their case – as a result, discovery of spoliation of evidence will carry a presumption that the at-fault party was liable for your injuries in some way.

  • If you were in an accident involving a truck driver who witnesses say drove erratically prior to your collision, your attorney could request a copy of the truck driver’s log. Erratic driving may mean that the driver did not follow federal regulations regarding allowed driving hours. If the truck driver and trucking company intentionally lose this log, and your attorney proves spoliation of evidence, the court can determine that the log most likely contained evidence that the driver broke federal regulations.
  • If you were in a collision with a driver who operated a dashboard camera, your attorney could request a copy of that footage. If the driver somehow loses this footage but retained footage from before and after the accident, your attorney could claim spoliation of evidence. The court may determine that the footage contained evidence that you had the right-of-way and the driver failed to yield to you.
  • If you slipped and fell in a business due to owner negligence, your attorney could request a copy of the security footage in that area at the time of the accident. If the owner tampers with and loses the footage, your attorney can claim spoliation of evidence. The court may determine that the footage contained evidence that the owner failed to maintain a safe premises.

Damages for Spoliation of Evidence

Depending on the state law, you can request different sanctions for spoliation of evidence. In the state of Oregon under Revised Statute 40.135 and Rule of Civil Procedure 46, you can claim any of the following remedies for spoliation of evidence:

  • Presumption that the evidence contained adverse information to the at-fault party
  • Holding the at-fault party in contempt of court
  • Blocking the at-fault party from raising certain arguments or engaging in specific defenses

To avoid spoliation of evidence, contact a personal injury attorney. Your attorney can send a notice to the at-fault party requesting pieces of evidence before they have a chance to destroy them. In the case that spoliation of evidence does occur, your attorney can investigate the instance and call on the court to impose sanctions.