In Am. Nat’l Prop. & Cas. Co. v. Broan-Nutone, No. 5:18-CV-5250, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 203267 (W.D. Ark.), a subrogating carrier filed a product liability lawsuit alleging that a defective bathroom fan caught fire and caused property damage. Prior to trial, the defendants/manufacturers filed motions to: (i) prevent the plaintiff’s experts from testifying for allegedly spoliating evidence; and (ii) prevent the admission of the fire marshal’s report as hearsay and/or as prejudicial, confusing and/or misleading. The court denied the defendants motions, thereby allowing all of the evidence to be presented by the subrogating carrier at trial. Continue reading
Courts are faced with the difficult task of drawing a line to determine when the failure to preserve evidence becomes culpable enough to permit a judicial remedy. In State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Cohen, No. 19-1947, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 163681, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (District Court) made clear that a party is not entitled to a spoliation sanction without proof that the alleged spoliation was beyond accident or mere negligence. The District Court emphasized that when evidence goes missing or is destroyed, the party seeking a spoliation sanction must show that the alleged spoliation was intentional and that the alleged spoliator acted in “bad faith” before adverse inferences will be provided. Continue reading
Idaho is the latest of several states that now recognize an independent tort against third parties that willfully compromise evidence in an attempt to interfere with a potential civil lawsuit. Courts have long provided remedies for evidence spoliation when the wrongdoer is a direct party to the litigation, such as providing an adverse inference instruction against the spoliating party. However, courts have not always granted relief to plaintiffs alleging third party spoliation. In Raymond v. Idaho State Police, 451 P.3d 17 (Idaho 2019), the Supreme Court of Idaho formally adopted the tort of Intentional Interference With A Prospective Civil Action By Spoliation Of Evidence By A Third Party (Third Party Spoliation). Adopting this tort provides an avenue of spoliation relief against parties who are not part of the underlying civil lawsuit. Continue reading
The extent to which a loss scene can be altered before adversaries can legitimately cry spoliation has long been a mysterious battleground in the world of subrogation. In the case of In re Xterra Constr., LLC, No. 10-16-00420-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 3927 (Tex. App. – Waco, May 15, 2019), the Court of Appeals of Texas, Tenth District, addressed the question of when a party has a duty to preserve evidence. The court found that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing sanctions on the defendants for the spoliation of evidence as the evidence at issue was already gone by the time the defendants knew or reasonably should have known there was a substantial chance a claim would be filed against them. Continue reading
In Amerisure Ins. Co. v. Rodriguez, 43 Fla. L. Weekly 2225 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App., Sept. 26, 2018), the Third District Court of Appeals of Florida addressed whether a third-party spoliation claim should be litigated and tried at the same time as the plaintiff’s underlying tort case. The court held that since the third-party spoliation claim did not accrue until the underlying claim was resolved, the spoliation cause of action could not proceed until the plaintiff resolved his underlying claim. Continue reading
In Amica Mutual Ins. Co. v. BrassCraft Mfg., Co., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88986 (D.R.I. May 29, 2018), the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island addressed the question of whether the defendant was so unfairly prejudiced by the subrogating insurer’s spoliation of evidence that dismissal of the plaintiff’s case was the appropriate Rule 37(b)(2)(a)(i)-(vi) sanction. The court, focusing on the potential for undue prejudice to the defendant, granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss. Continue reading
On January 23, 2018, the Northern District of Indiana issued a decision that clarifies what constitutes spoliation of evidence under Indiana law. In Arcelormittal Ind. Harbor LLC v. Amex Nooter, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10141 (N.D. Ind.), the defendant filed a motion for sanctions, alleging that the plaintiff intentionally spoliated critical evidence. The defendant sought dismissal of the action, asserting that the plaintiff intentionally discarded and lost important physical evidence within hours of a fire that occurred while the defendant’s employees were performing work at its facility. The decision underscores the importance of taking immediate action to properly identify and secure potentially material evidence in order to satisfy one’s duty to preserve pre-suit evidence and avoid any spoliation defenses and associated sanctions. Continue reading
In Cumberland Insurance Group v. Delmarva Power d/b/a Delmarva Power & Light Company, 130 A. 3d 1183 (Md. App. 2016), the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (the Court) addressed an issue of first impression: the appropriate spoliation sanction when the physical object that was destroyed is, itself, the subject of the litigation. The Court, finding that the plaintiff was at fault and that the destruction of the house at issue irreparably prejudiced the defendant’s ability to defend the case, held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it dismissed the plaintiff’s case as a spoliation sanction.
By: Edward A. Jaeger, Jr. and Michael J. Wolfer
In Tatham v. Bridgestone Americas Holding, Inc., 473 S.W.3d 734 (Tenn. 2015), the Tennessee Supreme Court addressed whether intentional misconduct is a prerequisite to imposing sanctions for spoliation of evidence. The Supreme Court held that a finding of intentional misconduct is not a necessary prerequisite to imposing sanctions. Its presence, however, is a relevant factor in the totality of the circumstances to consider when determining whether to impose sanctions.