Articles Posted in Spoliation

golf courseThe spoliation doctrine provides that when litigation is pending or foreseeable, parties (or potential parties) are under a duty to preserve evidence that may be relevant to the adjudication of the action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37. When a party destroys relevant evidence with intent or through gross negligence, it may be subject to sanctions, including the application of adverse evidentiary inferences for a jury to apply at trial. Indeed, given the significant impact a loss of discoverable evidence can have on a plaintiff’s ability to successfully adjudicate his or her case, plaintiffs should always be mindful of important evidence that may exist—for example, videotapes—and be prepared to make arguments in the event such evidence is lost. However, as a recent decision from a Georgia federal district court reveals, establishing spoliation can be a difficult undertaking.

The incident at the heart of this case occurred at a golf course in the Appalachian region of Northern Georgia on October 11, 2014. On that day, the plaintiffs were driving in a golf cart between the second and third holes of the course when the golf cart slid and flipped. The plaintiffs sustained injuries as a result of the accident, and they alleged these were caused by the poor condition and maintenance of the path, about which they claimed they were not warned. The plaintiffs brought suit against the company that owns and manages the golf course, alleging negligence and loss of consortium. After the accident, both the golf cart and the signage that indicated drivers should avoid the area where the crash occurred had been removed or destroyed. Accordingly, the plaintiff made a motion seeking spoliation sanctions.

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truck drivingIt goes without saying that success in a lawsuit often depends on the evidence. Although a plaintiff is not always certain that he or she will have access to the best possible evidence, one does expect that the opposing party will not, through either neglect or willful obstruction, allow material evidence to be lost. Even though the effects of lost evidence are not easy to cure, court do have means of penalizing parties that fail to comply with their obligations to preserve  evidence. For instance, in a recent decision, O’Berry v. Turner, a federal judge imposed sanctions on several defendants in a tractor-trailer accident case for failing to produce material related to the driver and tractor-trailer involved in the accident.

Turner started with a June 2013 traffic accident in Homerville, Georgia. While proceeding west along Dame Avenue in Homerville, a vehicle being operated by one of the plaintiffs in this action was struck by a tractor-trailer, which the driver of the car alleged swerved into his lane without warning. The collision caused the car to veer off the road and into a light post. As a result of the accident, the driver and another occupant in the vehicle sustained various injuries. The truck was being operated by an employee acting on behalf of ADM Trucking, Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland Company. Following the accident, the driver and the other occupant brought suit against the driver of the tractor-trailer, ADM, and Archer Daniels. In August 2013, counsel for the plaintiffs sent a spoliation letter to ADM, requesting that the defendants make an effort to preserve various evidence related to the driver and the trailer involved in the accident. Counsel for the defendants responded to this request and stated that the defendants would take all measures necessary to assure the preservation of pertinent evidence. Eventually, the plaintiffs made a discovery request to the defendant, requesting, inter alia, the truck driver’s driver log and all electronically stored information related to the tractor-trailer involved in the accident. The defendants failed to comply with the request, and the plaintiffs moved for sanctions against ADM and Archer Daniels.

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