What does “spoliation” mean?
The doctrine of spoliation of evidence applies when one party either attempts to or actually does destroy, conceal, hide, alter, and/or tamper with evidence that would be favorable or beneficial to the other party. Another definition provides that spoliation of evidence is defined as “an attempt by a party to suppress or destroy material evidence favorable to the party’s adversary.”
Rule 37 of both the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, address a party’s failure to preserve electronically stored information that “should have been preserved” and “is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be restored or replaced.” Although spoliation does not only apply to electronically stored information, it often arises regarding documents, communications, and other information stored electronically.
Why is spoliation a problem in litigation?
Spoliation can become a significant issue for the party engaging in the destruction of evidence as there are a number of penalties that can be imposed upon that party, including dismissal of the action in its entirety. In addition to potentially negatively impacting a case and/or eliminating the case entirely, engaging in spoliation can impose additional litigation costs on both parties.
Few singular individuals plan to file and/or defend lawsuits in their monthly financial budgets. Those who do find themselves engaged in litigation are often thrust into that world due to the actions of another person and/or entity that has engaged in conduct that violates the law(s). This is not necessarily true for large companies with litigation budgets built into their financial plans.
Litigation is generally an expensive endeavor, thus legal fees can be a significant concern for clients. Although counsel should efficiently litigate claims on a client’s behalf, they should not sacrifice accuracy and quality to do so. By engaging in spoliation, this creates unnecessary issues within litigation that the attorney must address on behalf of the client(s), which may thereby increase the costs associated with litigating the case.
What could happen if you delete or destroy evidence.
In Alabama, five factors are considered by the courts when deciding what the appropriate remedy will be when a party engages in the spoliation of evidence. The five factors are (i) the importance of the evidence destroyed, (ii) the culpability of the offending party, (iii) fundamental fairness, (iv) alternative sources of information, (v) restriction of claims, and (vi) alternative sanctions.
Under the aforementioned Rules of Civil Procedure, if a party fails to preserve electronically stored information, the court may “(1) upon finding prejudice to another party from loss of the information, may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or (2) only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information’s use in the litigation may: (A) presume that the lost information was unfavorable to the party; (B) instruct the jury that it may or must presume the information was unfavorable to the party; or (C) dismiss the action or enter a default judgment.” Although these two rules specifically discuss electronically stored information, the same may also be true for evidence that is not stored in electronic format, but is stored only in physical, hard copy form.
If you feel your rights have been violated, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you!