One of the aspects of the litigation process of which non-lawyers may not be aware is the tactical manner in which defendants and their counsel may refuse to cooperate with what they are legally required to do. In the course of a lawsuit, both sides are required to provide certain information to the other side, so that they can gather evidence to build their case. This process is formally referred to as “discovery,” and can include things such as depositions (in person interviews), interrogatories (written questions), document requests, and other similar types of activities. Discovery is critical in personal injury and car accident cases, because it is the only means of gathering the sort of evidence necessary for trial. However, some may be surprised to learn that defendants can and do ignore legitimate discovery requests, even when they have been court ordered.
In one Georgia Court of Appeals case, for example, defendants were sanctioned for reportedly, “ intentionally destroying material evidence, for committing fraud on the court and the plaintiff, and for intentionally filing false responses to discovery requests.”
The defendants appealed the sanctions, and in the case, Howard v. Alegria, 739 SE 2d 95, Ga. Ct. App. (2013), the Court of Appeals reviewed the long and sordid history of destruction of evidence and other fraudulent conduct.
The facts of the case were as follows: plaintiff was driving his pickup truck on Interstate 20 when he lost control of his truck. The truck swerved onto the shoulder and then back onto the highway before coming to a stop in the right eastbound lane of the interstate. Shortly after this occurred, a tractor trailer owned by ACT collided with the plaintiff’s truck. During the collision, the plaintiff sustained severe, permanent injuries.
According to the case, the trial court reviewed a record which involved several years of the defendant misleading the plaintiff, which included repairing the tractor-trailer before the plaintiff could inspect it, deleting the truck’s internal service record, lying about insurance coverage and an online computer module, and then later claiming inadvertent mistake and total innocence.
Additionally, regarding the computer information the defendant downloaded and then deleted, it claimed that the evidence wouldn’t have been helpful to the plaintiff anyway. An expert, however, stated that the information downloaded from the onboard computer, was “the highest and best evidence of what actually occurred at the time of the collision in this case.”
Regarding the inspection, defendants tried to place blame on plaintiff for failing to inspect by a certain date, eventhough they had admitted that the tractor trailer had already been repaired in some way just five days following the accident.
The court quoted another opinion regarding the egregiousness of fraudulent responses to discovery, as opposed to not responding at all, because among other reasons, the plaintiff may never learn that the response was untrue.
Therefore, for the reasoning above, and that based on the much more in depth analysis within the case, the Court of Appeals affirmed the sanctions and other actions taken by the trial court.
As the court discussed repeatedly in this case, the reason why discovery fraud and abuse is so repugnant is because when evidence that is critical to a plaintiff’s case is destroyed, it may consequently render the plaintiff’s case unprovable. A plaintiff must establish that the defendant was negligent, and in order to do so, they need access to the underlying evidence of what happened at the time of the collision. Computer records on board the vehicle and the physical evidence of impact are incredibly crucial. This is why it is critical to act as quickly as possible following an accident, in order to ensure that records are not routinely deleted as part of a standard process. Unfortunately for the plaintiff in this case, the attorney did act quickly; it was the defendant who destroyed the evidence without the attorney or plaintiff’s knowledge until later on.
If you have been injured in car accident due to another individual’s negligent driving, the first thing you should do after seeking medical treatment and contacting law enforcement is to contact an experienced Atlanta car accident attorney as soon as possible. Stephen M. Ozcomert has over 20 years of experience in handling personal injury cases, and is experienced with representing individuals and their families who have been injured as a result of the negligent driving of others in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 in order to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.
More Blog Posts:
Default Judgment in Georgia Car Accident Cases, Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published December 4, 2013
Georgia Court of Appeals Rules Expert Testimony not Required for Causation of Back Injuries in Car Accident Cases, Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published November 25 2013