After a car accident, the opposing party or a witness might have important evidence. Before another party must preserve evidence relevant to your case, they must have a legal obligation to do so.
The attorneys at Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon know that your emotions are high after an auto accident. You may feel helpless because someone else caused the accident, but you do not have proof. Maybe you feel elated because you discovered that a nearby business captured the accident on their surveillance camera. But even if you ask the business to see the footage, do they have a responsibility to keep the video? How do you keep the opposing party from destroying evidence? Fortunately, Florida courts have dealt with these issues before. Our Florida personal injury lawyers will explain what you need to do to ensure the preservation of evidence in Florida.
Give us a call at (850) 444-4878 or send an online message today for a free consultation.
What Evidence Is Important After a Car Accident?
After an accident, evidence means witness testimony and physical evidence like documents, photos, or video. Many people know to keep pictures and video of the scene after the accident, but did you know you may need to keep the car, too? We understand that seeing your wrecked vehicle can be emotionally draining, but it may be significant evidence in your case. Experts may need to inspect the vehicle to recreate the accident or estimate your damages. It’s also important to let the witnesses know they should keep physical evidence in case of a trial.
What Is the Duty to Preserve Evidence?
People are ordinarily free to destroy their own property. However, when there is a conflict, another party may suddenly develop an interest in that property. For example, after an auto accident, surveillance video from a nearby business will be valuable to the parties in that case. The police might capture some evidence in a police report, which is an available record. However, if a witness recorded a video on their phone of the accident, they do not automatically have to keep the video without a legal duty to preserve the evidence.
Florida’s Duty to Preserve Evidence
Because of their inherent power to control the judicial process, the courts can set rules for the preservation of evidence. In Florida, a party has a duty to preserve evidence when they can reasonably foresee a lawsuit. In a crash, the opposing party arguably has notice of a conflict at the time of the accident. However, some Florida courts have ruled that businesses do not have a duty to preserve evidence (such as a surveillance video) without a written request. Because of this, it’s best to send a letter to the evidence owner requesting that they save the evidence after an accident in Florida.
The Importance of a Preservation of Evidence Letter in Florida
To protect yourself after an accident, you should send a written request to the evidence owner. Depending on the other evidence available, missing evidence can have a significant impact on your case. Your request letter should include a description of the evidence you want preserved and your intention to file a lawsuit. Without a clear order to preserve evidence, the owner can avoid responsibility by claiming that they did not have notice of the request.
Court Sanctions for the Failure to Preserve Evidence
If a party wrongfully destroys evidence, the law calls it “spoliation.” Because quality evidence is essential to the justice system, the court can order sanctions against a spoliator.
A Florida court may impose a sanction for spoliation only after finding that:
- The evidence existed at one time;
- The spoliator had a duty to preserve the evidence; and
- The evidence was critical to an opposing party being able to prove its claim.
In Florida, spoliation penalties have included the dismissal of a claim, the striking of pleadings, the entry of a default on the issue of liability, the exclusion of an expert witness, the creation of an evidentiary presumption, and the exclusion of expert testimony.
Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon: Professionals Helping You Preserve Evidence in Your Case
As experienced personal injury attorneys, we know how to obtain and preserve evidence for your case. Our attorneys can help you draft a preservation of evidence letter and ensure that the evidence owner knows their responsibilities. If a piece of evidence will make a difference in your case, we will fight to get that evidence to trial. Whether the evidence is in your control or is owned by a third party, we can help you preserve your evidence to secure a full recovery for your injuries.
Contact us online or call (850) 444-4878 today for a free consultation.