In 18 years of practicing injury law, it has never stopped amazing me how insurance companies and corporate defendants will “lose” or outright destroy important evidence about a personal injury accident. It is often hard to prove that this loss of documents in a personal injury case was intentional. However, with big dollars on the line in a serious injury case, some corporate managers forget their ethics in order to stop the injured person from getting fair compensation.
One example of this bad conduct in an injury case is where the Canadian Pacific Railway Company stands accused of deliberately destroying documents in litigation about a derailment in North Dakota with spilled chemicals harming people. The injury attorney for the hurt families try to prove that these acts of spoiling the evidence are not isolated, but are companywide repeated offenses. However, a lot of times, the judge only wants to hear about what the defendant did in that particular injury case and does not know, or want to know, about the number of times that the railroad company has pulled a similar stunt in the cases where injuries occurred to someone else in a different location. By combining forces with other plaintiff’s injury lawyers who do railroad and significant injury litigation, we try to come up with hard evidence of these abuses.
In one case I had in Maryland, the railroad took the piece of debris that my client tripped on and threw it away, even though it was specifically identified by the railroad worker as something that he tripped on. In a recent premises liability case, the store had conveniently misplaced the video surveillance tape, which would have shown exactly how my client slipped and was hurt. In a recent crossing case that I am working on, the defendant railroad company said that the black box or data event recorder was not properly installed and, therefore, the data about how fast the train was going was not useable. All of these examples show where either these companies are extremely sloppy in the way they do business or they are intentionally hiding information that would help the injured persons prove their cases .
The way the courts are set up, unless you can show willful acts of hiding or destroying evidence, there is not much of a sanction that the court will impose on the defendant corporation or their insurer. You can still argue to the jury that it is highly suspicious that the evidence is missing. However, it still amazes me that railroads and other corporations will play these games and commit overtly dishonest acts merely to save from having to pay money to someone who has been legitimately injured.