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What Happens if a Party in a Florida Personal Injury Case Fails to Preserve Necessary Evidence?

In many Florida personal injury cases, the case comes down to physical evidence. For example, in a lawsuit claiming that a defective tire was responsible for a serious Florida car accident, the tire would seem to be a critical piece of evidence. However, in the wake of a serious accident, the parties involved may not be thinking about an upcoming lawsuit. This raises the possibility that a party may destroy – either intentionally or unintentionally – important evidence.

Under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.380, courts can sanction a party for failing to preserve evidence. The sanctions that a court can impose against a party ranges from precluding the party from admitting evidence, prohibiting certain claims or defenses, giving the jury an adverse inference instruction, or dismissal of a case.

Generally, a court will not impose serious sanctions on a party who inadvertently destroys evidence. In Florida, when determining what sanction is appropriate, courts consider 1.) whether the destruction of evidence was willful or done in bad faith, 2.) the prejudice suffered by the other party, and 3.) whether the prejudice could be cured by the court. A recent case illustrates how courts handle claims of spoliation.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall accident at the defendant nursing home. Although there was a video of the plaintiff’s fall, and the employees of the nursing home viewed the video several times, the video was not preserved for trial, and the plaintiff was never provided a copy despite her requests. The nursing home responded that the video was automatically written over.

In a pre-trial motion, the plaintiff argued that, at the conclusion of the parties’ evidence, the court should provide an adverse inference instruction to the jury. An adverse inference instruction informs the jury that it may find that had the evidence been presented, it would have been unfavorable to the party that destroyed it. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff, holding that the jury would be given an adverse inference instruction.

The nursing home appealed the trial court’s decision on several grounds, including the adverse-inference issue. The appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision to provide the jury with the instruction, explaining that the trial court acted prematurely. The court explained that it was only after the parties had presented all of their evidence that the court could determine if such an instruction was warranted.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Florida slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While video evidence may exist, it is imperative that you act quickly, otherwise valuable evidence may be lost. At the law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank, we have been representing Florida injury victims for decades in all types of Florida personal injury claims, including slip-and-fall claims. To learn more about how we can help you recover for your injuries, call 877-448-8585 to schedule your free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Establishing Liability in Florida Swimming Pool Accidents, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 25, 2019.

Can a Court Exclude Relevant Evidence from a Florida Personal Injury Trial?, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 7, 2019.

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