A common concern in many Maryland personal injury cases is the spoliation of evidence. Spoliation refers to the “destruction, mutilation, or alteration” of evidence by a party who is involved in the case. Typically, spoliation occurs when a party is in possession of evidence that the party believes is unfavorable to their case (and thus, favorable to the opposing party).
When it comes to the destruction of evidence, Maryland courts operate by the maxim “Omnia praesumuntur contra spoliatem” which translates to “all things are presumed against the spoliator.” Thus, courts can impose a variety of sanctions against a party who is found to have spoliated evidence. To do so, the party seeking the imposition of a sanction must establish the four elements of a spoliation claim:
- The other party destroyed, mutilated, or altered the evidence;
- The fact that the evidence was discoverable;
- The intent to destroy the evidence; and
- The evidence was destroyed at a time after a case had been filed or when the destroying party knew that a case was imminent.
One of the most common sanctions courts impose against parties who have destroyed evidence is the provide an adverse inference instruction to the jury. Adverse inference instructions vary, but in essence, the instruction informs the jury that it can assume the evidence, had it been presented, would have disfavored the party that destroyed it. A recent state appellate decision discusses a situation where an adverse inference instruction may be appropriate.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall accident at the defendant medical center. The plaintiff’s fall was captured on video, and employees of the defendant were able to review the tape on several occasions. However, the plaintiff did not have the opportunity to review the footage because the defendant destroyed the tape before trial. The defendant claimed that it did not act negligently or fraudulently when it destroyed the evidence, and that an adverse inference instruction was inappropriate.
After hearing each party’s position in a pre-trial hearing, the court determined that it would give the “appropriate instruction” at the conclusion of the case. The defendant appealed. On appeal, the court reversed the lower court, finding that the jury should be given all the information surrounding the destruction of evidence so that it can determine if the defendant’s actions were reasonable. If the jury determined that there was no reasonable explanation for the destruction of evidence, then and only then could the jury infer that the video would have been unfavorable to the defendant.
Have You Been Injured?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. At the Maryland personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC we have decades of collective experience helping injured clients and their families pursue all types of personal injury, wrongful death, and medical malpractice claims. To learn how we can help you with your situation, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Appellate Court Rejects Defendant’s Appeal Based on Allegedly Misleading Jury Instruction, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 4, 2019.
The Issue of Government Immunity in Maryland Personal Injury Cases, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 16, 2019.