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Evidence Spoliation in Asbestos Lawsuits
In any civil injury or wrongful death proceeding, it’s the strength of the evidence that wins the case.
This can be especially challenging in mesothelioma litigation, where documents, testimony, and physical evidence date to incidents that occurred decades earlier. In these cases, perhaps more than others rooted in more recent torts, plaintiffs wrestle with the issue of evidence spoliation.
Evidence spoliation is when certain key evidence is altered, destroyed, or simply lost. When evidence spoliation occurs by one side and frustrates the other, judicial sanctions may be ordered. In the end, proof of evidence spoliation can actually help the party who needed it because courts tend to deal harshly with it, particularly if there is proof to suggest the other party acted in bad faith.
Our experienced Florida mesothelioma lawyers know possible sanctions for spoliation of evidence may include imposition of an evidentiary presumption, default judgment on the issue of liability (if the defendant is responsible), exclusion of expert testimony, and possibly even dismissal of the claim (if the plaintiff is responsible).
But in order for the court to consider possible sanctions, it must first conclude spoliation has occurred. In a recent mesothelioma case before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, a plaintiff filed a complaint alleging the defendants willfully, wantonly, or negligently spoiled evidence.
The court ultimately rejected these claims. However, the court did say if the plaintiff were able to develop evidence showing the defendants could have anticipated the flood of asbestos lawsuits and therefore had a duty to preserve evidence and didn’t do it, the plaintiff can file a motion for leave to amend and reinstate.
The court ruled the plaintiff failed to sufficiently lay out the events that gave rise to the spoliation claim and further failed to respond to several subsequent defense motions to dismiss.
In Florida, courts can impose sanctions for spoliation of evidence after considering the following factors:
- Did the spoliation create a prejudice?
- Is there any cure for that prejudice?
- What was the practical importance of the evidence?
- Is there evidence to suggest spoliation occurred in good or bad faith?
- What would be the possible abuse if the evidence is not excluded?
While the intention of the party that spoiled the evidence is an important thing to weigh, Florida state courts have ruled the issue of bad faith may be considered irrelevant when the evidence was so important to the other side’s case that it couldn’t proceed without it.
For example, in the 1983 case of DePuy v. Eckes, long believed to be the first Florida case in which spoliation sanctions were issued, a defendant in a defective hip replacement trial unwittingly damaged the replacement hip while testing it. That piece of evidence was critical for the plaintiff to prove its case. The court didn’t find any indication that the defendant damaged the piece on purpose. However, since the plaintiff’s case was impossible absent the intact medical device, the court ruled sanctions were appropriate, and the issue of bad faith versus good faith didn’t matter.
Meanwhile, sanctions for spoliation in federal cases may require proof of bad faith. For example, in Stanton v. National R.R. Passenger Group in 1994, a trial court declined to impose sanctions requested by the plaintiff after the defendant railroad company lost its “speed tape.” The plaintiff asked for an adverse inference of speeding as a sanction, but the court indicated it would only do so if the plaintiff could prove the defendant exercised bad faith in losing the tape.
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Frequently Asked Questions: Mesothelioma & Asbestos
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a carcinogenic, naturally occurring fibrous mineral. Known for its heat resistance and durability, asbestos has historically been used in insulation, construction materials, automotive parts, and shipbuilding materials.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos is made up of small shard-like fibers that can easily become airborne when disturbed. If inhaled or ingested, these fibers can embed within the lining of the lungs, heart, stomach, or testes where they can cause cancer to form years or decades later.
What are asbestos-related diseases?
Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.
What causes mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Unfortunately, symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until decades after exposure.
What are the different types of mesothelioma?
Three of the most common types of mesothelioma are pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and pericardial mesothelioma.
What are common mesothelioma symptoms?
Common symptoms of mesothelioma include difficulty breathing and chest pains. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the stomach, may cause abdominal swelling, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal pain, and nausea.
Do I qualify for compensation if I have mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a preventable form of cancer most commonly caused by asbestos exposure. If you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. military or while working in construction, mechanics, or a similar field, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact The Ferraro Law Firm for a free legal consultation.
What is the life expectancy for someone with mesothelioma?
There is no cure for mesothelioma. However, patients can receive treatments for mesothelioma that may extend their initial prognosis with proper treatment. Those diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma usually have a life expectancy that is greater than three years, though a large part of this depends on the stage the patient is diagnosed. The earlier the diagnosis, the longer the life expectancy and chance of long-term survival.
Do I qualify for compensation if I have mesothelioma?
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you should immediately seek long-term medical treatment. After that, you should contact our firm to examine your legal rights. Since 1985, The Ferraro Law Firm has represented individuals with asbestos-related diseases and pursued fair compensation on their behalf. Our firm is one of the top five law firms in the U.S. handling mesothelioma and asbestos cases.
Contact The Ferraro Law Firm at (305) 375-0111 to explore your legal options with our knowledgeable legal team.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling (888) 554-2030. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.