What Is Spoliation of Evidence?
Oct. 4, 2023
If your company is currently engaged in a dispute that could lead to litigation or the legal proceedings are already ongoing, it is crucial that you understand how cases involving the spoliation of evidence are handled by courts.
Our attorney at The Law Office of Stephen Barker can help you take immediate action if you believe spoliation of evidence has occurred or is about to occur. We can help you with gathering and preserving important evidence, preventing the destruction of evidence by the other party, and restoring destroyed evidence in your business litigation case.
What Is Spoliation of Evidence?
The parties to a pending or potential lawsuit are prohibited from destroying — intentionally or not — any documents or materials that may be relevant to the underlying legal action. When either party (the defendant or the plaintiff) destroys or attempts to destroy evidence in a business litigation matter, it is known as the spoliation of evidence.
However, spoliation of evidence can occur in any type of legal case, not necessarily business litigation, and refers to both physical and electronic materials. Both the plaintiff and the defendant have an obligation to preserve evidence related to their legal matter. Spoliation of evidence can occur through an intentional act of destroying evidence (e.g., deleting a file or burning a document) or neglect that results in the destruction of the evidence.
The Consequences of Spoliation
Depending on the applicable laws, the involved party can request various sanctions and remedies if spoliation of evidence has occurred. However, the evidence in question must be deemed relevant to the business litigation case for the judge to impose sanctions. Some of the common consequences of spoliation include:
Holding the party accused of spoliation in contempt of legal order.
Preventing the party accused of spoliation from raising any arguments in the case.
Striking that party’s pleadings.
Presuming that the destroyed evidence contained information that proves the other party’s claims or defenses.
Imposing additional sanctions if deemed applicable and reasonable.
When caught early enough, correction actions may be ordered to mitigate the spoliation of evidence. However, even if the evidence can be restored or preserved, the party that was attempting to destroy the evidence may still face sanctions for such attempts.
The Challenges in Spoliation of Evidence Cases
Spoliation of evidence cases may not always be straightforward. For example, how should you know whether evidence should be preserved for a “potential” lawsuit? If spoliation of evidence occurs before either party initiates legal action, the court will determine whether or not litigation was reasonably foreseeable.
When spoliation of evidence occurs, when do courts penalize the party that had an obligation to preserve evidence but failed to do so? Generally, courts impose sanctions when the following is true:
The party accused of spoliation of evidence had control over the evidence and the obligation to preserve it;
The party was at least somewhat at fault for the destruction of the evidence; and
The evidence in question was relevant to the opposing party’s claims or defenses.
Courts have broad discretion in imposing sanctions for spoliation of evidence. Whether or not punishment is appropriate is determined on a case-by-case basis. Sanctions also depend on the accused party’s level of culpability: intention, negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and willfulness.
How to Avoid Spoliation of Evidence in Business Litigation Cases
Our attorney at The Law Office of Stephen Barker often gets calls from clients saying that the opposing party in their business litigation case accuses them of spoliation of evidence. To avoid this from happening, here are some general tips to follow when you have a pending or potential business litigation case:
Work with an attorney to identify all relevant evidence in your case to ensure that you do not accidentally delete, throw away, or otherwise destroy the evidence that could be used or considered during the legal proceedings; and
Take all necessary steps to preserve the documents and materials relevant to your case, including physical evidence (e.g., documents) and electronic ones (files, emails, text messages, etc.).
At The Law Office of Stephen Barker, we can help you identify and preserve all the evidence that may be relevant and valuable to your business litigation matter to ensure that you uphold your obligation to avoid the destruction of evidence. Our attorney also assists clients facing legal repercussions for intentional or unintentional spoliation of evidence.
What to Do if You Believe Evidence Was Spoiled
If you believe the other party has destroyed evidence relevant to your business litigation case, you might want to consider filing a claim for spoliation of evidence. The claim must establish that:
There was a pending or potential lawsuit;
The other party had a duty to preserve evidence;
The evidence was destroyed;
The destruction of the evidence significantly impairs your ability to prove your claim; and
The spoliation of evidence caused you damages.
If the evidence is still there but you worry that the other party may attempt to destroy or otherwise dispose of it, you might want to contact an attorney to help you draft and submit a spoliation letter to the opposing party. The letter requests the party to preserve the evidence in question and underscores their obligation to not destroy the relevant materials.
Take Your Next Steps Forward
If you are concerned or have questions about the spoliation of evidence in your business litigation case, The Law Office of Stephen Barker can help. Our attorney can help you understand your best course of action if you believe something happened to evidence in your case or you are being accused of destroying or attempting to destroy evidence. Contact our office today to request a free consultation and discuss your legal options.
We also represent those accused of tampering with or destroying evidence in such matters. Our law firm provides businesses with exceptional legal counsel in Boca Raton, Florida, and the surrounding area, including Boynton Beach, Miami, Delray Beach, Deerfield Beach, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale.