“Spoliation of evidence” may sound complicated and technical, but the concept is straightforward and very important for anyone involved in a personal injury case in New York. In simplest terms, “spoliation of evidence” means destroying or failing to preserve evidence. The consequences can be serious, whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant in a New York personal injury case.
New York Spoliation of Evidence Law
Unlike some states, New York has not created an independent cause of action for spoliation of evidence. However, New York common law allows courts to impose sanctions for either intentional destruction of evidence or negligent failure to preserve evidence.
Destruction of Evidence in a New York Personal Injury Case
The inclination to destroy evidence is easy enough to understand: no one wants to provide a piece of evidence that is going to harm his or her case. The risk that evidence may be lost or destroyed is one of the reasons that we suggest contacting a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after you’ve been injured. In many cases, however, the failure to preserve evidence can do a party more harm than the evidence itself might have.
Here’s how failure to preserve evidence has played out in some New York personal injury cases:
- A hotel that failed to provide relevant video footage in a case filed by a woman injured by a malfunctioning elevator. The court instructed the jury to assume that the video would have provided evidence that was detrimental to the hotel’s case.
- A health club operator that failed to preserve a treadmill involved in an injury was precluded from arguing that the treadmill was in good working order and free from defects, and was prevented from adding the treadmill manufacturer to the suit, since the key piece of relevant evidence was not available for inspection.
- A plaintiff’s claim relating to a back injury was dismissed after she elected to undergo non-urgent back surgery one week before a schedule examination by the defendant’s physician in connection with the case, since relevant evidence was forever unavailable to the defense as a result of her actions.
Managing Your New York Personal Injury Case
The consequences described above are serious, and are just a sampling of the possible sanctions that can be imposed when a party to a personal injury case destroys or negligently fails to maintain evidence that could impact the outcome of the case.
The clear warning here is that if you’ve been injured and are considering pursuing litigation, you should get advice from a personal injury lawyer before taking any action that might delete or destroy potential evidence. It’s also encouraging news for personal injury victims who may suspect that evidence was destroyed before they were able to take action. However, there is a broader underlying message that is at least as important: it’s easy for inexperienced individuals and businesses to make critical mistakes in personal injury cases and other litigation.
Get Help from a New York Personal Injury Lawyer
Some of those whose cases have been irreparably harmed by the loss or destruction of evidence had no idea that their actions could harm their claims. That’s no surprise, because the average person doesn’t have the knowledge or experience necessary to navigate the complex technicalities of personal injury litigation. Don’t take chances with your claim. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, through medical malpractice, or in any way due to someone else’s negligence, schedule a free consultation today to learn how you can protect your claim.