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Court Determines Plaintiff Was Not Responsible for the Destruction of Relevant Evidence

Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case rejecting the defendant’s claim that the plaintiff’s case should be dismissed based on the plaintiff’s failure to preserve relevant evidence. The case is important for Florida personal injury plaintiffs because it illustrates both the importance of preserving evidence that is in the plaintiff’s control, as well as taking expedient action to ensure potential defendants also preserve necessary evidence.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s wife was killed in a car accident. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s wife was driving on a highway when her car hydroplaned after encountering a puddle of water. Evidently, the storm drain that should have drained the water from the road was clogged with debris. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city responsible for maintaining the road.

After the accident, the plaintiff’s car was taken to a scrap yard. The owner of the scrap yard sent a letter to the plaintiff’s mother’s home, demanding payment of a daily storage fee. The plaintiff later retained counsel, who contacted the scrap yard and asked the vehicle be preserved. The plaintiff’s counsel also requested that all future communication be directed to him, rather than to the plaintiff.

The scrap yard evidently sent the plaintiff another letter at his mother’s home, demanding immediate payment or the vehicle would be destroyed. The plaintiff did not receive the letter, and the car was later destroyed. The city moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s case based on the fact that he failed to preserve necessary evidence. The trial court granted the city’s motion, and that plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Decision

On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The court explained that just because the evidence was destroyed does not necessarily mean that sanctions are appropriate, especially sanctions as severe as the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case. The court held that the facts presented suggested, at most, the plaintiff was negligent in failing to preserve the evidence, and that mere negligence did not warrant dismissal of his claim.

In coming to this conclusion, the court noted that the plaintiff’s attorney was diligent in reaching out to the scrap yard and asking all future communication go through counsel. However, for unknown reasons that were not attributable to the plaintiff, the scrap yard did not send the second letter to counsel and instead sent it to the plaintiff, who never received the letter.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Florida car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated South Florida personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank have extensive experience assisting injury victims, and their families pursue fair compensation for the injuries they have sustained. To learn more about how we can help you with your case, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Holds That Police Department May Be Liable for Officer’s Failure to Use Due Care While Responding to an Emergency, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 6, 2018.

Court Permits Premises Liability Case to Proceed After Applying the Res Ipsa Loquitor Doctrine, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 13, 2018.

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