VA Supreme Court Decision Could Make it Harder to Use Defendants' Destruction of Evidence Against Them in Injury Cases

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 video tapes.

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.