Bilesky v. Shopko – Spoliation of Evidence Met With Sanctions

Evidence is the crux of any legal case. The truth, of course, is of paramount importance, but what is also key is what can be proven. Without the right amount and type of evidence, a case will go no where.
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This is as true for personal injury cases as it is for those involving crimes.

Because certain evidence can be considered critical to a case, and those with vested interest in not having that evidence presented may be in possession of it for a time. The courts have long recognized the importance of sanctions for loss or destruction of evidence – regardless of whether it was intentional. When important evidence is lost, it’s called spoliation. By imposing sanctions for spoliation of evidence, the court provides incentive to protect key evidence that may be helpful to the opposing side.

Sanctions can include anything from a special instruction to the jury to a default judgment on the issue of liability or damages. It can result in the party disadvantaged by the loss of evidence winning the case.

Our Montgomery injury lawyers recognize the importance of having a legal team that conducts a thorough investigation, identifies all pertinent evidence and can recognize when spoliation may be at issue.

A recent example of how courts handle the issue of spoliation is the case of Bilesky v. Shopko, a slip-and-fall case which ultimately wound its way to the Montana Supreme Court.

Here, a woman suffered a slip-and-fall on a slippery floor in a department store. Although she initially struggled to get up and required assistance, she left the store that day without reporting it. However, the following day, the extensive nature of her injuries prompted her to contact the store and report what happened. After she spoke to the manager, he contacted store security personnel and reviewed surveillance tapes of the fall. The incident was captured on camera, and the manager instructed the security officer to copy the footage (normally destroyed after two weeks) and send it to the company’s insurer.

After a personal injury lawsuit was filed, it was learned the store security officer inadvertently copied the wrong footage. it was apparently an accident and not the result of bad faith. Still, the effect on the plaintiff was a grave disadvantage, as her attorney noted there were several key points they believed the video would have shown. Initially, defendant agreed to conceded to some of those points, and the trial court declined to give special jury instructions noting the concessions. But during trial, defendant presented points counter to the earlier-agreed concessions.

Defendant won, but the Montana Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding the trial court abused its discretion in determining the circumstances didn’t warrant judicial admissions to the jury.

So egregious was this error, the high court remanded back to the lower court for a new trial.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 1-866-942-9315 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Bilesky v. Shopko, Nov. 14, 2014, Montana Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Bufkin v. Felipe’s – Pedestrian Injury, Premises Liability and Open-Obvious Doctrine, Oct. 30, 2014, Montgomery Injury Lawyer Blog