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Florida Court Addresses Spoliation of Evidence Issue in Car Accident Cases

Sadly, car accidents happen on a daily basis in Florida and throughout the country. If you have been seriously hurt or someone you know has died in a car accident, you may be able to recover compensation from the at-fault party. While no sum of money can take away the pain you have suffered, it can help pay for the bills that suddenly pile up after an accident. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our seasoned Miami car accident attorneys know how to preserve evidence and build the strongest case possible on your behalf.

Calhoune v. Ford Motor Company et al

In cases where an accident is allegedly caused by a design or manufacturing defect, the car itself can be critical evidence in establishing fault. Following an accident, the plaintiff often has an obligation to preserve the vehicle so that the opposing party can properly inspect it. Failure to preserve the car could potentially negatively impact the plaintiff’s case. In Calhoune v. Ford Motor Company et al, a Florida court recently discussed when an adverse inference instruction against the plaintiff for not preserving a vehicle that supposedly had a design or manufacturing defect is appropriate.

In this case, the plaintiff was driving his Ford Mustang GT on an interstate when he swerved to avoid hitting a vehicle that made an improper lane change and lost control of his car, which ultimately flipped over and landed on its roof. The plaintiff sustained such severe injuries that his left arm had to be amputated. The plaintiff’s insurance company determined that the Mustang was a total loss, which led to the plaintiff transferring the title of the car to the insurance company. Neither party preserved the car.

The plaintiff sued Ford, alleging that the car’s airbag, seat belt and rollover protection systems failed due to design flaws or system malfunction. Ford denied liability, claiming that the plaintiff’s own negligence was responsible for the wreck and its case was prejudiced since it could not inspect the car before the title was transferred. Ford asked for an adverse inference instruction at trial claiming that evidence had been spoiled.

Spoliation of Evidence

Spoliation of evidence refers to the intentional, reckless or negligent withholding, hiding, changing, creating or destroying evidence related to a legal proceeding. In order to establish spoliation, the party who claims to be prejudiced is required to demonstrate that the evidence in question existed and the plaintiff had a legal obligation to preserve said evidence. This legal obligation is triggered when a party who has the evidence believes litigation is likely. The party claiming spoliation must also show that the evidence was critical to the case either in terms of establishing fault or a defense. In the case at hand, the court held that the plaintiff did not have a duty to preserve the vehicle at the time he transferred the title to the insurance company. The court stated that the duty is triggered when litigation is contemplated, not when it is merely a possibility. According to the court, when the title was transferred, litigation was not reasonably foreseeable to the plaintiff. As such, the defendant’s request for an adverse instruction at trial was denied.

Contact a Trusted Miami Car Accident Attorney Today

If you have been injured in a car accident, you may be unsure of your next steps. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our highly skilled Miami car accident attorneys will help you understand your legal rights and options so you can make an informed decision about how to proceed. We understand how to build a case, including what evidence to preserve. Let our deep understanding of Florida personal injury law be an asset to you. Call us at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) or reach out to us online.

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Florida Court Applies Open and Obvious Doctrine in Florida Premises Liability Case, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, February 14, 2019

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