The spoliation of evidence is the intentional or negligent withholding, hiding, altering, or destroying of evidence relating to a legal proceeding. Such spoliation has two potential consequences, first where the intentional act is criminal it may result in fines and incarceration for the parties who committed the spoliation; and second, where case law precedent has been set, the proceeding will be interpreted under a spoliation inference. Such spoilation inference occurs when the jury is ordered to infer that the spoiled evidence has been tampered with and thus should not be held in the same regard as evidence not interfered with.
Evidence spoilation has been making headlines in a recent case against the National Park Service, where the collapose of a retaining wall resulted in the death of a nine year old boy in a Northern California park. The National Park Service destroyed the remains of the retaining wall prior to allowing investigators a period of examination as to the cause of the wall's collapse and its link to the child's death. The magistrate stated that there was no need to destroy the wall, and officialls could have easily closed the trail or constructed barriers to separate the wall from the general public. Although the destruction of the wall was regarding by the magistrate as “highly suspicious”, an evidentiary hearing will be needed to determine whether there was any improper motive in its destruction.
Spoliation is considered a negative evidentiary inference, which in the case of the boy’s wrongful death, strengthens the parent’s civil suit against the parks. The inferred motivate behind evidence spoilation is that the party effectuating the destruction of such evidence has a “consciousness of guilt” leading them to destroy the evidence in an attempt to avoid it being used against them in court.
In a tort action it is important that the injured party understand their rights and issues such as evidence spoliation are brought to the court’s attention immedaitely. In instances of evidence spoilation retaining an experienced lawyer can mean the difference between injury and recovery.
About the Editors: The Shapiro Lewis Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.