Spoliation of Evidence
Not every attorney understands or knows how to address the tricky issues that may come up in truck accident cases. One such issue is spoliation of evidence. In California, spoliation of evidence occurs when evidence is destroyed or substantially altered, or when it is not preserved for pending or future litigation. In some cases, it is inadvertent or part of the ordinary course of business. However, since the liability and exposure is so huge after a truck accident, spoliation of evidence may be done intentionally, recklessly, or willfully. The Los Angeles truck accident lawyers at Sharifi Firm are here to help victims take action when a defendant’s spoliation of evidence has tainted the proceedings.Understanding Spoliation of Evidence
A truck accident may be caused by truck driver negligence, trucking company negligence, or a defective component of a truck, among other things. Since truck accidents may be devastating when they occur, truck drivers must usually follow numerous safety rules. For example, the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMSCA) has developed numerous safety regulations that truck drivers and trucking companies that are engaged in interstate travel must follow. These regulations include requirements about background checks, truck maintenance, hours of service, a log book, and adequate supervision.
There are many forms of evidence that may help a court decide who was at fault for a truck accident. These include a truck driver's log book, maintenance records, a truck driver's job file, the black box that is inside the truck, and other items.
When evidence is destroyed, it increases the risk that a case will be decided unfairly. Spoliation may happen in many different ways, such as by deleting electronic files, shredding documents, losing black box data, or creating false documents such as a false log book. By law, trucking companies only need to keep certain records for a limited amount of time, after which a trucking company is free to do what it wants with them. This window during which evidence must be preserved makes it critical to retain an attorney right away after a truck accident that causes injuries.
Immediately after an accident, we can send a spoliation of evidence letter to the trucking company to make sure that it understands that litigation is pending. That way, the company cannot claim that it did not know that it should save records beyond the time required by law.
There are many different remedies that courts may grant when spoliation is discovered. These may include adverse inference jury instructions, evidentiary or even monetary sanctions, and criminal penalties.
In California, you can have a judge instruct the jury on an adverse inference if evidence was willfully destroyed or suppressed during the underlying litigation. Under Evidence Code section 413, the jury may consider a party's failure to explain or provide testimony that denies facts that indicate that it willfully suppressed evidence. If the jury decides that one of the parties intentionally destroyed or concealed evidence, it may decide that the destroyed evidence would have been unfavorable to that party. It is not enough that the evidence shows that the destruction of evidence was negligent—it must be willful to get the adverse inference against the defendant. The implication is that there must be a consciousness of guilt by a defendant that destroys evidence, and the evidence must have had the potential to affect the overall outcome of the case.
More often, sanctions are awarded on a case-by-case basis. Factors that the court may consider when deciding whether to sanction a defendant include how much at fault it was, the degree of prejudice suffered by the plaintiff, whether a lesser sanction would avoid substantial unfairness, and issues of deterrence of others.
There are different types of sanctions. For example, a terminating sanction may be issued when there is an egregious instance of intentional spoliation of evidence. In some cases, the court may exclude related or derivative evidence offered by a trucking company that destroyed evidence while under a duty to preserve it.Contact a Tractor-Trailer Accident Lawyer in the Los Angeles Region
Spoliation of evidence is a serious concern for plaintiffs. At Sharifi Firm, APC, our experienced Los Angeles attorneys may be able to help you recover compensation from a negligent truck driver and trucking company. Contact us online or call us at 1-866-422-7222 for a free appointment. We also represent victims who need a tractor-trailer crash lawyer in cities such as Riverside, Temecula, Rancho Cucamonga, Glendale, Covina, and San Bernardino.