After you have been in a terrible accident or lost a loved one, especially when the accident or death was caused by the negligence of someone else, you probably want justice. The outrage, the pain, and the sense of loss are too much to bear, and you want someone to pay for what was done. You want to be made as whole as possible. But what if the evidence that would allow that justice to come to pass has been ruined? And what if it was the allegedly guilty party who destroyed it? This intentional destruction of evidence primarily for the purpose of depriving the opposing party of its use is known as spoliation of evidence.
While a party might assume that spoliation of evidence has occurred, mere allegations will not get you far, and actually proving that spoliation of evidence has occurred can be much harder than you might think. In the state of Louisiana, there are several rules and standards with regard to how a party must prove that such spoliation of evidence actually occurred. First of all, merely accusing someone of negligently destroying evidence is not enough to prove spoliation of evidence. The standard is much higher than that. The plaintiff actually has to prove that the evidence was intentionally destroyed, and it can be quite difficult to prove the intentions of one’s actions.
If a party fails to produce evidence within his or her reach, there is a presumption that the evidence would have been detrimental to the case; however, it is still essential to prove that the evidence was intentionally destroyed. Furthermore, the defendant has a duty to preserve evidence. This duty arises because of the foreseeability of needing that evidence in the future. If there is no ability to foresee the need for that evidence in the future, though, the duty does not exist.
To help explain this concept a bit better, we can look at the facts of a recent case that was heard in one of the Louisiana appellate courts. In that case, a family had just experienced the tragic death of their son, and they suspected that medical malpractice was at fault. Separate from their medical malpractice claim, the couple brought a separate tort cause of action, arguing that the doctor and his staff were liable for spoliation of evidence. Specifically, one of the things the couple claimed was that the medical staff had unplugged a pump which deleted all of the data regarding the amount of narcotics that their son had received. This was relevant because one of the possible causes of death was related to the narcotics provided by the staff.
While it became an undisputed fact that the staff had actually unplugged the machine and lost the data, this was not enough to prove spoliation of evidence. As stated above, there has to be a duty to preserve the evidence, which arises from the foreseeability of needing that evidence in the future. There also has to be proof that the evidence was intentionally destroyed. In this case, the couple had not asserted any facts that would prove the machine was unplugged for the purpose of intentionally destroying evidence. The couple, furthermore, had not proved that any duty existed for the defendants to collect data in order to support the theory that the death was caused by an adverse reaction to prescribed narcotics. At the time that the staff unplugged the machine, there was no litigation pending or any litigation foreseeable in the near future, so the staff did not have a duty to collect evidence. Because of these reasons, the court found that no spoliation of evidence had occurred in this instance.
If you are a loved one are in need of a competent attorney, contact Berniard Law Firm at (504) 521-6000, where an experienced attorney will gladly help you with your claim.