Court Discusses Spoliation of Evidence in a Florida Premises Liability Case

Slip and fall accidents frequently happen in retail stores, and in most instances, there is little, if any, evidence of the condition that caused the fall. If the injured party reports the incident to people working at the store, though, the manager will often take pictures of the area where the fall occurred. Stores might not maintain such photos, however, and if they do not, it may result in an adverse inference against them at trial due to the spoliation of evidence. In a recent ruling, a Florida court discussed the proof needed to demonstrate a defendant’s actions warrant an adverse inference in a slip and fall case. If you fell in a retail store, you could be owed damages, and you should confer with a skillful Florida premises liability lawyer regarding your potential claims.

The Plaintiff’s Fall

It is alleged that the plaintiff fell while shopping at a store owned by the defendant. The day of the fall, the defendant’s store manager called the defendant’s insurance company to report a claim, and during the conversation, stated that he took photographs of the area where the fall reportedly happened. Shortly after the accident, the plaintiff’s attorney sent two letters to the defendant asking it to preserve any surveillance videos that depicted the fall.

Reportedly, the plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant, asserting negligence claims. In response to the plaintiff’s discovery requests, the defendant stated it did not have any photographs of the fall. The plaintiff deposed the store manager, who stated that he could not recall if he took pictures of the area. Pursuant to the plaintiff’s motion, the court ordered the defendant to produce the photographs. The plaintiff then filed a motion for sanctions, requesting an adverse inference against the defendant for the failure to preserve the photographs, pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Demonstrating Spoliation of Evidence in Personal Injury Cases

The courts define spoliation as the significant alteration or destruction of evidence or the failure to preserve property for a party’s use as evidence in litigation that is pending or reasonably foreseeable. The court will only draw an adverse inference from a party’s failure to preserve evidence when the party’s actions were taken in bad faith.

In other words, spoliation sanctions such as adverse inferences will not be imposed on parties that negligently lost or destroyed evidence. Thus, the party’s reason for destroying evidence is the key consideration in determining if sanctions are warranted. Here, the court ultimately determined that the plaintiff failed to show that the defendant’s failure to preserve the photographs arose out of bad faith. Thus, it denied the plaintiff’s motion.

Speak to an Experienced Florida Premises Liability Attorney

Retailers have an obligation to ensure their stores do not present risks of harm to their customers, and if they breach this duty, they should be held accountable. If you suffered injuries in a fall at a store, you should speak to an attorney about your potential claims as soon as possible. The experienced Florida retail store liability lawyers of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, P.A. have the knowledge and resources needed to help you seek a favorable outcome, and we will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can reach us via our online form or by calling us at 800-283-7442 to set up a conference.

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