In December, the Virginia Supreme Court issued a decision that may change
the standard used in proving that defendants intentionally destroyed evidence
in personal injury auto accident cases. That’s because the court
ruled against granting a “spoliation adverse inference instruction”
for proving that a defendant merely negligently destroyed or lost evidence,
and instead required that platinfiffs prove intentional destruction or
loss of evidence.
In many auto accident cases involving commercial vehicles and personal
injury, corporate employers or their legal team will have custody of evidence.
This evidence can prove vital in supporting arguments from victims as
to how drivers were unsafe, or companies were negligent in causing a crash
and injuries. When victims don’t take appropriate steps to secure
critical evidence, they risk those in custody of that evidence “losing”
or “destroying” the evidence unintentionally, such as when
a defendant fixes a damaged vehicle, erases truck data, or erases or loses
In cases where defendants lose or destroy evidence, plaintiffs and their
lawyers have typically be able to use that against them. This is usually
achieved by showing that the loss or destruction of evidence was negligent,
which would provide the jury with instructions that would allow them to
infer that the evidence was a bad reflection upon an unsafe driver and
/ or their employer.
With the recent decision, however, victims will now have a more difficult
time of getting the jury to make such inferences, as they would need to
prove that the defendant
intentionally lost or destroyed evidence – not merely negligently destroyed it.
The intentional standard is much harder to prove under Virginia law. Because
of this, the decision is not one issued in the best interests of victims,
and instead provides pathways for defendants and corporate employers to
say they negligently lost or destroyed evidence with no fault!
In light of this decision, it becomes all the more important for victims
harmed in accidents involving unsafe commercial trucks or vehicles to
work with experienced attorneys who can help them not only seek full and
fair compensation for their injuries, but also take the necessary steps
to preserve critical evidence in their cases. At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata
& Siegel, P.C., we understand the importance of using evidence to
support our clients’ claims, and have the insight and resources
to help preserve evidence, maintain vehicle storage, and ensure documents
are appropriately sealed and protected.
If you have questions regarding your rights and potential case involving an
auto accident anywhere in Virginia or the DC metro area, including those involving commercial
truck accidents or other commercial vehicles, do not hesitate to
contact our firm for a FREE consultation.