Atlanta personal injury law blog entry will be about “spoliation”. (And yes, I don’t
blame you one bit if you think I just spelled that wrong. The first time
that I saw that word in a draft of a brief I went through correcting it
everywhere. For an explanation of how I came to understand that the word
is spelled correctly, and why it is spelled that way, please see my last
blog entry I did on spoliation.
Spoliation is the destruction of evidence. Obviously courts and juries
cannot make good, sound decisions if they have no evidence before them.
For that reason, the law penalizes parties who destroy evidence.
O.C.G.A. § 24-4-22. In layman’s terms, if a party had evidence that the party claims
is missing or that the party simply won’t provide, then the Court
and the jury are going to assume that the reason the party is not bringing
the evidence is that it would have hurt that party’s case. The party
that destroyed the evidence can bring in proof that will change the jury’s
mind, but until he does, the Court and the jury are going to assume the
evidence was bad for that party.
The presumption can apply in any type of case. For example, the statute
was applied in a suit over enforcement of a bank note in
Cavin v. Brown, 246 Ga. App. 40, 538 S.E.2d 802 (2000). In Cavin, the defendant produced
only “minuscule and illegible scraps” of a bank note, which
he claimed he had torn up to spite the plaintiff. The court found that
a presumption arose that “the evidence would have been harmful,
or that the claim against him was well-founded.”
The presumption also has been applied in trucking accident cases, where
a large tractor-trailer has collided with a car. For example, in a tractor-trailer
accident case, the logbooks are extremely important because they can show
that the driver was driving for more hours than the legal limit. The truck
inspection reports can show that the truck had not been serviced or repaired
properly. Without the logbooks and truck inspection reports, the jury
is missing critical information that would help it to make a good decision
in the case. In
J. B. Hunt Transport v. Bentley, 427 S.E.2d 499, 207 Ga. App. 250 (1992), the trucking company had destroyed
logbook and truck inspection reports, after it had begun its investigation
into a trucking accident. The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that the
jury reasonably could presume that the missing documents showed the driver
was forced to drive with insufficient rest and that the truck was not
in a safe condition to be driven on the highways. The Court ruled that
based on those facts, as well as some other facts in the case, the jury
reasonably could find that the trucking company had shown a conscious
indifference to the safety of people on the roads, and could award punitive damages.
Atlanta truck accident lawyer and car accident lawyer, it certainly surprises me how often big companies
will hide or destroy information like log books or truck inspection reports.
Without the spoliation presumption, one party could make sure that the
other could never get justice, simply by destroying evidence.