Personal Injury

Spoliation of Evidence in Texas

To win a personal injury case, you need to provide clear evidence that proves your right to compensation. This evidence can take on many forms, including medical records, surveillance footage, witness testimony, and models and diagrams. In some cases, however, the at-fault party facing litigation may fail to properly preserve evidence for your claim. This act is known as the spoliation of evidence.

Attorney explaining spoliation of evidence

What Is Spoliation of Evidence?

Spoliation is a legal term that refers to the failure to reasonably preserve or the destruction of material and relevant evidence that may be used in a court proceeding. The person who is in possession of the evidence had a duty to preserve this evidence, and either knew or should have known that an injured person would intend to use it in his or her claim. Common types of evidence found in spoliation disputes include surveillance footage, social media posts, maintenance records, and other types of electronically stored information.

The Brookshire Case

Prior to establishing its current framework, Texas courts responded to spoliation of evidence by presuming that the missing evidence would have been unfavorable to the party that destroyed it. A 2014 Texas Supreme Court case, Brookshire Brothers, Ltd. v. Aldridge, has changed how courts approach spoliation of evidence in the state.

The Brookshire case involved a plaintiff who slipped and fell on a liquid substance while shopping at a Brookshire Brothers grocery store. After initially notifying the store about his fall, the plaintiff’s condition worsened over the next few days and he complained to the store about his severe pain. The store then preserved an eight-minute clip that began just before the plaintiff entered the store and ended after he fell and left.

However, the grocery store’s surveillance cameras recorded video in a continuous loop. Approximately one month after the fall, the cameras recorded over footage from before the fall, preventing the plaintiff and his personal injury lawyer from identifying the source of the spill and whether any employees saw it and failed to clean it up. This evidence would have been material to the case.

At the conclusion of the Brookshire case, the plaintiff won a large verdict, but the Texas Supreme Court reversed this decision. It clarified new rules regarding spoliation of evidence in its opinion.

Texas’s Framework for Spoliation of Evidence

The Texas Supreme Court found that the trial court that heard the Brookshire case abused its discretion in allowing the jury to hear the evidence about the spoliation. The court also asked the jury to consider the spoliation of evidence in its deliberation on the lawsuit’s merits. The Texas Supreme Court found that this approach is inappropriate and set forth new guidelines.

To analyze the spoliation of the evidence, Texas courts must undertake a two-step judicial process.

  • First, the court must determine whether the party spoliated evidence based as a question of law. This helps the court avoid unfair prejudice. Only the judge, not the jury, can determine if spoliation occurred.
  • Second, the court must assess an appropriate remedy if it determined that spoliation occurred. Spoliation is an evidentiary issue, not a separate legal action, and it is not appropriate for the court to ask the jury to resolve them.

Texas and federal laws regarding the spoliation of evidence are often under scrutiny. To ensure that you protect your case and understand the legal basis necessary to hold defendants accountable for these actions, it is important to seek the help of an experienced lawyer. Contact your attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case and gather the evidence you need to prove your right to damages.

Personal Injury

Demonstrable Evidence in a Personal Injury Case

Simply suffering an injury is not enough to win a personal injury lawsuit. Proving your right to compensation requires establishing the defendant’s liability with clear and convincing evidence. This evidence can take the form of witness testimony, expert statements, medical records, and demonstrable evidence.

Demonstrable evidence refers to objects, pictures, models, and other elements that an attorney can present in a trial to prove his or her case. This form of evidence can help demonstrate the severity of an injury, proof of harm, and other elements necessary to secure a settlement in your lawsuit.

Evidence for a personal injury case

Common Types of Demonstrable Evidence

Demonstrable evidence can take many forms depending on the fact that the attorney is using it to prove. The main feature of demonstrable evidence is that it is visual, allowing the judge and jury to conceptualize the severity of the injury, the actions of the defendant, and the nature of your damages and losses.

Common types of demonstrable evidence include the following.

  • Photographs
  • Maps
  • X-rays and MRI scans
  • Physical and virtual models
  • Animations
  • Charts and diagrams
  • Illustrations
  • Surveillance footage

How Is Demonstrable Evidence Used?

In a personal injury case, you must establish the defendant’s negligence to secure compensation. You will need to prove three important facts to accomplish this: the defendant owed you a duty of care, he or she breached the duty of care, and this breach of care directly caused your injuries and losses. Your attorney can use demonstrable evidence at multiple points during the case process, especially when establishing the breach of care and how it caused your injuries and losses.

For example, say that you suffer a broken bone in a car accident after a driver runs a red light. Your personal injury attorney can submit x-rays of your broken bone as evidence of your injury and use surveillance footage from the traffic camera to establish the defendant’s actions. He or she may also commission an animated video that breaks down how the accident occurred and the injuries you experienced due to the injury.

The Demonstrable Evidence Approval Process

One important fact to remember is that a judge must approve evidence prior to admission to the courtroom. The judge must ensure that the evidence is probative, not prejudicial. Probative evidence is sufficiently useful to prove an important fact in a court case. On the other hand, prejudicial evidence may have the ability to influence the jury on an improper basis.

For example, say that you are pursuing compensation for the loss of a limb after a workplace accident. If your attorney were to submit a photograph of your severed limb as demonstrable evidence, the judge may deem it too shocking to present to the jury, likely to sway the opinion of the jury, and therefore prejudicial.

If your attorney were to submit x-rays of your severed limb as another piece of demonstrable evidence, the judge is likely to approve it. This type of evidence presents the nature of your injuries in a non-shocking way that is unlikely to influence the jury improperly. In this case, the x-ray will be probative evidence.

If you are suffering from harm due to the negligence of another person, speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Personal injury lawsuits require a great deal of evidence to prove, and hiring an injury attorney will provide you with access to these resources. Your lawyer will explain your legal options and begin collecting necessary evidence to prove your right to compensation.