Skip to Main Content

California Personal Injury Claims: What is a Spoliation Letter?

A serious accident can cause enormous disruption to your life. Not only could you be dealing with stacks of medical bills and significant pain and suffering, but you may need to take time off from work to recover from the accident. Through a personal injury claim, you can hold the at-fault party—and their insurance company—responsible for your damages. 

Navigating the personal injury claims process is complicated. A spoliation letter is one of many legal tools that a lawyer can use to help you secure justice and compensation. In this post, our Stockton personal injury attorney provides an overview of spoliation letters and explains how one can help to put you in the best position to secure justice and compensation in a personal injury claim. 

Background: Evidence is Key to Successful Personal Injury Claim

As a starting point, it is important that most personal injury claims in California are based on fault. To hold a defendant legally liable for your injuries, you will have to prove that they were to blame for causing their accident through their careless, reckless, or otherwise negligent actions or inactions. All successful personal injury claims require well-organized supporting evidence.

Here is a challenge for injured victims: The defendant has possession of some of the key evidence that you will need to build your case. As an example, imagine that you were hurt in a truck accident in Stockton. You suspect that the truck had a mechanical problem. How do you find out when the truck was last inspected? The company holds the maintenance records and inspection reports. A letter of spoliation is a legal tool that can help to ensure you get access to the evidence. 

What is a Spoliation Letter in a Personal Injury Claim?

In California, parties to an active or potential legal matter have a general obligation to preserve relevant evidence. However, in reality, many defendants will claim that they misplaced or were otherwise unaware of the existence of potentially relevant evidence. A letter of spoliation is a legal tool that you can use early on in a personal injury case to establish a paper trail. A properly-crafted letter of spoliation should do the following two key things: 

  1. Inform the defendant/potential defendant that they are likely in possession of documents, records, or other evidence that will be relevant to your personal injury claim; and
  2. Notify the defendant that they have an obligation under California state law to preserve that evidence.  

California Law: “Spoiled” Evidence May Be Presumed Favorable

Ideally, a letter of spoliation will help to ensure that a defendant actually preserves the relevant evidence, so that you have the information you need to make your personal injury claim. However, even when that does not occur, a letter of spoliation still helps to enforce your rights. This is because California law imposes sanctions on parties that intentionally destroy or negligently fail to maintain records that are relevant to an ongoing legal matter.  

The standard is well-demonstrated in the 2009 case of Kearney v. Foley & Lardner, LLP. As explained by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the party that lost out on the ability to review or utilize “spoiled” evidence may be entitled to an adverse inference. Put another way, the court will simply presume that the evidence in question would have been unfavorable to the defendant. It is effectively a procedural penalty on the party that failed to keep evidence. 

To illustrate how this works, consider the previously mentioned example of a commercial truck accident. If the trucking company failed to preserve relevant inspection and maintenance records after receiving a letter of spoliation, a California court can simply presume that those records would have shown some sort of problem. For an injured victim, this adverse inference may be enough to prove liability and recover the full and fair financial compensation that they deserve. 

Set Up a Free Consultation With a Stockton Personal Injury Attorney

At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, our Stockton personal injury lawyers have secured more than $25 million in financial compensation for our clients. We have what it takes to hold defendants and insurance carriers accountable. If you have any questions about spoliation letters or any other aspects of the personal injury claims process, we can help. Contact our legal team now for your free, no-obligation case review. We provide personal injury guidance and support throughout the region, including in Stockton, Sacramento, Tracy, Sutter Creek, Lodi, and Manteca.