If you are injured, even as you focus on medical treatment, don’t forget to contact an attorney immediately to preserve the evidence!

When you get hurt because of someone else’s fault, your first instinct will be getting medical treatment to get better, repairing your car, and minimizing time out of work.  If you consider talking to a lawyer promptly, it is probably because you are concerned about dealing with medical or financial stress, and that’s perfectly understandable.  But there’s another important reason to find an experienced litigation attorney quickly—so that they can promptly take action to preserve crucial evidence.  Unfortunately, defendants will often use the delay between your injury and the first communication they receive from your lawyer to your detriment, because they will spoil evidence—either deliberately or by negligently failing to take the necessary steps to preserve it.

As an example, this occurred in a recent case our firm handled involving a client who fell in a workplace bathroom the client and co-workers used. We asserted that the persons cleaning the bathroom were negligent for failing to put up warning signs and for leaving an overly slick but clear substance on the bathroom floor. Unaware that the passage of time might result in important evidence disappearing, our client didn’t retain us until more than a year after the injury while reasonably trying to heal and restore her life.  During that year, our client underwent extensive medical treatment including occupational therapy, imaging studies and surgery, but still had permanent injuries.

Unfortunately, during that time period, the defendant disposed of records that turned out to be important to our client’s case. The defendant didn’t do so in bad faith to hide evidence; this purge of records was a normal part of its business practice. Because the defendant didn’t receive a notice of claim, it followed its usual routine and destroyed records it had no known reason to retain. By the time the responsible cleaning witnesses testified, it was more than two years after our client’s injury. They couldn’t remember anything specific about the work they performed which we claimed caused our client’s injury.

This made it much harder for us to prove what the defendant did wrong, and which people were responsible.  The defendant’s witnesses said they all carried out their normal routine, and as so much time had lapsed, had no memory of the acts that particular day that would have caused anyone to be hurt.  This was significant.  The injured plaintiff always has the burden to prove each element of a claim, including how the negligent action occurred and caused an injury.  We had the challenge to prove when the substance got on the floor, who put it there, and what those people did wrong to create the dangerous condition. Everyone agreed that the missing work records would have included information about which employees cleaned that area, when, and what actions they performed prior to our client’s fall—which also bore upon when the defendant’s employees would have had notice of the dangerous condition and a duty to fix it or warn of it.

Fortunately, by developing sufficient circumstantial evidence, we obtained a result in favor of our client.  This required conducted extensive discovery including subpoenas to third parties, numerous depositions and a private investigator to find and interview key witnesses.  But the records would have been the most efficient and reliable source of admissible information, saved time and expenses, and strengthened the evidence.

The moral of the story is to contact a good litigation attorney as soon as possible after an injury. Doing so allows the attorney to obtain evidence before it is lost.

And it isn’t just slip-and-fall cases where evidence is lost if prompt action isn’t taken. In our car and trucking accident cases, significant evidence can be lost if the investigation doesn’t begin immediately. This includes calls to 911, law enforcement dash and bodycam footage, and contact information for witnesses.  In addition, we employ experts who will investigate a crash scene before road marks fade or are washed away; download crucial data from control modules that record the data in most modern vehicles before they are crushed or the data overwritten; and investigate the various systems and conditions of a tractor trailer before it is cleaned, repaired, and returned to service.  The difference between a crucial, value-enhancing piece of evidence can be days, or even hours after a collision.  The sooner you contact a qualified trial attorney with the urgency and resources to capture this evidence, the stronger and more valuable your injury claim is likely to be.

If you have questions about a personal injury claim in Virginia, call us.  We litigate such cases in Roanoke City and County, Montgomery County (Christiansburg, Blacksburg), Lynchburg, Abingdon, Martinsville, Rocky Mount, Wytheville, Bedford, Covington, Harrisonburg, Richmond, Charlottesville, Lexington, or Staunton.  We practice in rural areas like Bath County, Campbell County, Giles County, Craig County, Smyth County, Alleghany County, Pulaski County, Franklin County, Campbell County, Carroll County, Patrick County, Floyd County, Stuart County, Pittsylvania County, Henry County, and Wythe County. We also litigate in Virginia federal courts, including those divisions in Roanoke, Abingdon, Danville, Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Alexandria, and Richmond.