What Happens When a Party Destroys or Loses Evidence in a Washington, D.C. Personal Injury Claim?

In an Washington, D.C. premises liability case, a party must preserve evidence relevant to a claim. Under Washington, D.C. personal injury law, if a party acts in bad faith to destroy a relevant document the party may be liable for spoliation and there will be a strong inference that the document was unfavorable to that party. The court and the jury can consider this inference in deciding the case. If a party fails to preserve evidence but the party did not act intentionally or recklessly, the fact-finder may still draw an inference adverse to the party that failed to preserve the evidence.

To establish a claim of spoliation under Washington, D.C. law, a party must prove: (1) a potential civil action exists; (2) the offending party had a legal or contractual duty to preserve evidence relevant to the claim; (3) the defendant destroyed evidence; (4) the destruction significantly impaired the injured party’s ability to prove the claim; (5) there is a proximate relationship between the impairment and the absence of the destroyed evidence; (6) there is a significant possibility that the claim would succeed if the evidence were available; and (7) damages adjusted for the estimated likelihood of success.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court denied a motion for spoliation in a case involving a child that was injured on a playground at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. In that case, the child had removed his shoes as instructed by a sign at the playground and was playing barefoot on the playground on a hot day when he badly burned the bottoms of his feet. The child’s parents sued the restaurant, arguing that their child was injured by a hazardous condition on the restaurant’s playground. They alleged that the hazardous condition was the use of a sanitizer on the playground that day.

The plaintiffs later claimed that the restaurant failed to preserve evidence of the sanitizer used on the playground. They alleged that they were prejudiced because they could not examine the solution, test the chemical concentration in the solution, or discover whether it had been properly prepared. According to the evidence, the solution was used up about every two days. The plaintiffs claimed that the restaurant knew or should have known about the litigation three days after the accident. Therefore, when the restaurant knew or should have known about the litigation three days later, there was no longer any solution to provide. The court further held that the plaintiffs failed to prove that there was a causal link between the sanitizer and the burns or that the restaurant had superior knowledge of hot surfaces, thereby dismissing the case.

Contact a Washington, D.C. Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been injured, call the Washington D.C. personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. Our compassionate attorneys are proud to advocate for D.C. accident victims. Bolstered by many decades of combined experience, our team of legal advocates, staff, and experts has the ability to pursue all the parties that were responsible in causing your harm or loss. They can guide you through each step of the legal process, from the initial investigation through settlement negotiations and litigation. We handle all types of personal injury claims, including Washington, D.C. slip and fall accidents, car crashes, incidents of medical malpractice, and more. To set up a free consultation, call us toll-free at 800-654-1949 or contact us online.

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