In a Florida criminal case, if you intentionally destroy/tamper with evidence, it can be a third-degree felony. But what if it’s a civil case?
Anyone who files a Palm Beach injury lawsuit will soon come to understand the pivotal role of evidence. A fact can be 100 percent true, but virtually meaningless without concrete proof. More weight will always be given to assertions supported by strong evidence, as opposed to one side’s word versus another’s.
If evidence central to a civil case is destroyed, it’s called spoliation, and it doesn’t even have to be intentional for the court to impose sanctions. As for the exact penalty, the consequences depend on:
- Who had control of the evidence.
- Whether the possessor/controller was a party to the civil case and in some way benefited from its loss.
- The extent to which the loss of that evidence prejudiced the other side in its ability to prove/disprove pivotal facts.
- If the person/organization was a non-party to the case, whether they owed the duty – by contract, statute, or timely-served preservation/discovery request – to preserve the evidence.
Since the 1980s, Florida courts have repeatedly held that when physical evidence is lost, misplaced, destroyed, or otherwise made not available AND it fundamentally prejudices the other side’s chance to pursue/defend a claim, courts have the authority (and broad discretion) to impose sanctions. These can include:
- The legal presumption that key facts pertaining to that evidence would have benefitted the other side.
- Dismissal of the claim (when the plaintiff is the spoliator).
- Granting default judgment in favor of the party prejudiced by the loss of that evidence.
Types of Spoliation in Palm Beach Injury Lawsuits
There are two basic types of spoliation: First-party and third-party. Continue reading