Last week, a Gwinnett County jury awarded $2.3 million to the victim of a slip-and-fall at a Douglasville Kroger. While the accident itself was not strange as far as slip-and-falls go, after Craig Walters slipped in the store in 2008, at least one Kroger employee decided to get rid of the evidence. Because of the company’s actions, an unusual trial was held where the jury was not actually asked to determine whether or not Kroger had been negligent.
After Walters slipped on some crushed fruit and fell onto his back, he was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries and had to have surgery, including having rods and screws inserted into his spine. Because his medical bills came to $135,000 and he was no longer able to work as a landscaper, Walters sued Kroger for compensation.
Kroger initially claimed that the security camera footage from the day of the accident had since been taped over, because recordings are only held for 17 days. They also claimed that the security cameras did not point in the direction of the deli area where Walters slipped. During preparation for trial, Walters’ lawyer, Lloyd Bell, asked for a demonstration of the store’s security cameras and saw that a camera pointed directly at the area where Walters fell.
The judge in the case agreed and found that the company had spoliated evidence by destroying the tapes. He then held the company had been negligent and was liable for Walters’ injuries. A trial was then held, but the only issue for the jury was how much Kroger owed Walters. After three days, they awarded Walters $2.3 million.
Spoliation often affects victims of products that have injured them. If they cannot produce the evidence for experts to examine, they will often have a hard time convincing a jury that the manufacturer was negligent. But spoliation also means that when property owners know someone has been injured on their property, they have a duty to make sure the evidence of the accident is preserved. When they fail to do so—or actively try to destroy the evidence—they can be found automatically liable for the victim’s injuries.
Even mundane oversights—like fruit left on the floor for an unreasonable time—can have catastrophic consequences resulting in severe injury, enormous bills, unemployment, pain, and even death. Lawsuits for personal injuries ensure that innocent victims of negligence are not made to shoulder such extreme consequences by themselves and that the parties who actually caused an injury compensate those they have harmed. It is important in all personal injury cases to make sure that evidence is preserved so that negligence can be proven later. If you or a family member have been injured by product or on another’s property, do not wait to find an who can ensure that the evidence you’ll eventually need is kept safe.