The evidence in a Maryland personal injury case, or lack thereof, can have a significant impact on the outcome. In an April 27, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether an unavailable, and potentially unrecorded, surveillance video could be used as evidence. The matter came before the court after the plaintiff had won his personal injury claim against an amusement park at trial.
The plaintiff in the case was visiting the water park area of an amusement park with his two sons. While shirtless, the plaintiff left the water park area and was approached on two occasions by park security, who informed the plaintiff of the park’s policy prohibiting entry into the amusement park area without a shirt. After several heated exchanges, an altercation occurred between the security guards and the plaintiff, which lead to the plaintiff’s head hitting the ground. The plaintiff filed suit against the amusement park for his alleged injuries.
During the closing arguments at trial, the plaintiff’s counsel noted to the jury that the incident had occurred in an area of the park that the defendant had admitted was under surveillance by cameras. However, no witness testified as to whether any video of the evidence was captured, and if so, whether it had been destroyed or was missing.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by allowing the plaintiff to insinuate that it had destroyed the alleged video. In general, attorneys are afforded great leeway in presenting closing arguments to the jury. What exceeds the limits of permissible comment, however, depends on the facts in each case. Here, the defendant asserted that the remarks amounted to a spoliation argument, which was unfairly prejudicial and affected the verdict.
Spoliation of evidence is the intentional destruction, mutilation, alteration, or concealment of evidence, usually a document or physical object. Although the case at issue did not concern a spoliation instruction, evidence of the existence of a document or video is crucial in this area. The appeals court found no evidence or reference that any video had existed and was missing or destroyed. Moreover, the park had no duty to preserve such a video unless the park had been put on notice of litigation and had the video at that time.
The appeals court ultimately held that the trial court erred by allowing the plaintiff’s counsel to discuss spoliation in closing arguments without presenting any evidence at trial that supported the theory. The court went on to find that the plaintiff’s argument was clearly prejudicial, as it caused the jury to speculate about facts not in evidence and submit questions to the judge concerning the whereabouts of the video. The court therefore reversed the verdict and remanded for a new trial.
At Foran & Foran, P.A., our experienced Maryland lawyers can help you explore your legal options after an accident or injury. We have represented people in personal injury claims and medical malpractice actions as well as car accident and premises liability cases. Arrange a free consultation with an accident attorney by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.