What is a Non-Spoliation Letter, and Why Does It Matter to My Lawsuit?
Author: Brandon D. Smith, Esq.
It is sometimes the case that, following an accident, evidence goes missing, is misplaced
or discarded, or, in the more egregious cases, is intentionally destroyed or discarded. This could
be as a result of a business policy of only holding and/or storing surveillance film for a
maximum of 3-days, after which the surveillance film is automatically discarded. Thus, it is good
legal practice to send opposing counsel a non-spoliation letter if the sought-after evidence is
and/or could be deemed to be of a temporary life-span or could possibly be destroyed by its very
nature (such as the surveillance film mentioned above). But what is a Non-Spolitation Letter? A
non-spoliation letter is a legal tool attorneys use to put your legal adversary on notice of specific
evidence or types of evidence to preserve for litigation, and subsequently for trial. The term
“Spoliation” means to tamper with, destroy, modify, reduce, convert, or alter in any way, shape,
or form, a particular type or piece of evidence as the evidence was in its true organic original
form. Preserving evidence is important for trial, and preserving a specific type or piece of
evidence can make a huge difference in your lawsuit.
In the same vein, non-spoliation letters can be hybrid in nature. Sometimes I do not know
exactly what the evidence is going to be because the discovery phase of that particular case is
still in its early stages. However, in other cases, after I have legally analyzed a case based on its
merits and legal theories, I will want to mention and delineate specific evidence to be preserved.
These include vehicle black boxes in wrongful death cases, surveillance film in slip-and-fall
cases, corporate meeting minutes of board members in ultra-hazardous equipment cases, specific sharp objects, training manuals and/or safety procedures in hotel premises liability cases, and time sheets and other business records kept in the regular course of business in cases involving a shooting and premises liability (as well as many other types of evidence).
There are no set formulae or indices for how to craft these types of letters, or what specific evidence one should include. These types of letters are crafted on a case-by-case basis depending on your case’s specific facts, legal theories, possible affirmative defenses, and even the far-sighted legal strategy for trial. For the reasons set forth hereinabove, it is critical to hire an attorney that is experienced in prosecuting personal injury claims.