Discovering New Evidence After the Close of Your Case (Part I)

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As advanced of a species as we are, we must admit that we do not know everything. Our knowledge is limited and imperfect, and we as human beings are prone to making mistakes. Even in our judicial system, errors can and do occur despite the best efforts of judges, lawyers, and the litigants themselves. But unlike simple errors in balancing a checkbook or a wrong turn, errors in our judicial system can cause serious harm and damage to a person. Is there a way to undo an erroneous judgment? The answer is “yes,” but the process is difficult.

An Illustration of the Issue

Consider this example: Plaintiff is injured while under the care of the employees and staff of a local nursing home. The injuries are severe and Plaintiff alleges that the employees deliberately inflicted these injuries on her in retaliation for what they perceived to be Plaintiff’s “demanding” nature. The accused employees deny the allegation and maintain that Plaintiff fell. The nursing home’s contracted medical provider examines Plaintiff and finds her injuries to be consistent with an accidental fall. Plaintiff nevertheless brings a lawsuit against the employees and the nursing home. During discovery, the nursing home turns over what it says are all records and reports relating to the alleged fall, including statements made by the employees, video/audio recordings of the location of the alleged fall, and internal e-mails regarding the incident. The evidence is insufficient and the Plaintiff loses her case.
Now suppose that several weeks go by and Plaintiff overhears talk from other residents about “secret microphones” in the ceiling of the nursing home. Sure enough, there are recording devices hidden in the ceiling. After pulling some strings, Plaintiff is able to review the recordings made in her room. Sure enough, recordings on the date in question capture the employees telling Plaintiff how she is a bother to them, how they are going to “teach her a lesson,” and how they plan to conceal their activities by making it look like she had a fall.
Although this is an extreme example, the question remains: Is Plaintiff entitled to any relief? Can the court undo its mistake?  In some instances,  the answer is yes.  A court may grant relief from a judgment and order and allow a new trial on the discovery of newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered prior to judgment, particularly where the newly discovered evidence was hidden by fraud or other misconduct by an adverse party.

“Undoing” a Mistake Does Not Necessarily Mean Changing the Outcome

Assume for the sake of argument that Plaintiff can reopen her case based on the new evidence she has discovered. In reopening the case, the court has “vacated” or set aside its previous rulings and the verdict, allowing the case to essentially start over. A court that grants a motion to reopen a case is not guaranteeing that the result will be different, nor is the court expressing any opinion as to what the verdict ought to be. The court is simply allowing him- or herself or a jury an opportunity to review all of the evidence of the case (including the newly discovered evidence) and render a verdict thereon. Therefore, you need experienced legal counsel just as much during the retrial as you did during the first trial.

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David R. Price, Jr. is an experienced South Carolina personal injury lawyer who dedicates himself and his legal practice to helping victims who were injured by the careless or reckless actions of another person recover compensation for their losses. Contact his office for assistance by calling (864) 271-2636 or contact him using this form.

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