Partner Todd Wallace led a recent effort at the trial court and appellate levels to successfully strike all liability defenses of an insurance company and its client due to the client’s spoliation of video evidence of a patron’s fall in a New Orleans-area business. On October 1, 2021, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied the final writ application filed the insured and its insurance company seeking to overturn a decision by Civil District Court Judge Ellen Hazeur where she conclude, after a full hearing and assessment of the evidence, that the defendants failed to offer any credible explanation to explain missing video surveillance; that its excuses amounted to nothing more than “misrepresentations,” “disingenuous” explanations, and “conflicting” statements; and that the doctrine of spoliation applied because the plaintiff established, through the defendants’ repeated misrepresentations and ever-changing story, that they intentionally destroyed the evidence for the purpose of depriving the plaintiff of its use. Judge Hazeur’s decision withstood several appellate challenges at the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and the Louisiana Supreme Court.
This victory is significant as these collective rulings confirm that an injured plaintiff need not always prove that a defendant intentionally deleted relevant video surveillance by actually pushing the delete button or engaging in some other overt act of destruction of evidence. Instead, a trial court can reasonably infer intentional conduct depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular case, as the District Court did in this case, based on the evidence before it.
This case should serve as an critical reminder to all litigants - both plaintiffs and defendants alike - to be mindful of the importance of prompt and effective evidence preservation. Trying to explain lost evidence after the fact can result in devastating consequences for your case. Contacting an attorney as soon as you are injured or as soon as your business is made aware of a potential claim is the most effective way to prevent spoliation claims.
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