spoliation of evidence

Spoliation of Evidence Claim Against Third-Party

Posted by David Adelstein on October 06, 2018
Uncategorized / Comments Off on Spoliation of Evidence Claim Against Third-Party

 

What is a spoliation of evidence claim?  Let’s find out…

The recent decision in Amerisure Insurance Company v. Rodriguez, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D2225b  (Fla. 3d DCA 2018) involved a case where an employee was injured.  While he was collecting worker’s compensation benefits, he sued the the party responsible for his injuries in a premise liability (negligence) claim.  He learned that his employer and its worker’s compensation insurer lost a copy of a videotape of his accident.  He claimed the video would help prove his premise liability claim.  For this reason, he also sued the insurer and his employer for spoliation of evidence—that these third-parties negligently destroyed evidence impacting his ability to prove his premise liability claim.  The trial court ordered this trial to occur at the same time as his premise liability trial.  A petition for writ of certiorari was taken.  

 

Distinction between First-Party and Third-Party Spoliation Claim

 

The appellate court first distinguished a first-party spoliation claim with a third-party spoliation claim, with the underlying case being the latter since it involved the plaintiff suing a third-party for spoiling evidence applicable to his premise liability claim:

“First-party spoliation claims are claims in which the defendant who allegedly lost, misplaced, or destroyed the evidence was also a tortfeasor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries or damages.”  In contrast, third-party spoliation claims “occur when a person or an entity, though not a party to the underlying action causing the plaintiff’s injuries or damages, lost, misplaced, or destroyed evidence critical to that action.” . The Florida Supreme Court has held that no independent cause of action for spoliation will lie against a first-party tortfeasor.  Instead, spoliation in that context should be addressed by the trial court imposing sanctions and presumptions.  Here, we are dealing with a classic third-party spoliation claim.

Amerisure Insurance Co., supra (internal citations omitted).

 

Timing of Third-Party Spoliation Claim

 

When it comes to third-party spoliation claims, the appellate court held it was premature for the spoliation claim to continue while the underlying premise liability (negligence claim) had not been resolved.  Hence, the third-party spoliation claim should be dismissed or abated / stayed until the underlying claim is resolved.  Notably, however, the appellate court refrained from deciding whether this applies in the products liability context based on older, questionable legal authority.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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Note on Discovery in Litigation

Posted by David Adelstein on June 19, 2015
Discovery, Evidence / Comments Off on Note on Discovery in Litigation

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Here is a quick note on discovery in litigation (e.g., document requests, depositions, interrogatories).

An objective of discovery is to discover information that is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. In other words, just because the discovery appears irrelevant does not necessarily mean that pursuing such discovery will not reasonably lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. By taking a more liberal approach to discovery, hopefully, some of the unfortunate gamesmanship that occurs during discovery is eliminated or reduced. In particular, parties should not be able to unilaterally dictate what they believe is relevant to another party’s claims or defenses. This would just result in parties potentially hiding information, concealing information, or not producing information under the pretext that such information is not relevant as determined by that party. Who wants this? Many times, disputes get resolved during discovery or after discovery runs its course as parties are able to better evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their case based upon another party’s analysis and theories supported by the information.

Now, just because there is a more liberal approach to pursuing discovery does not mean parties have carte blanche to discover everything or go on fishing expeditions. Discovery is not intended to be a tool to harass another party by seeking evidence / information that is categorically irrelevant to the dispute at-issue. Check out this article for an example of a court granting a writ of certiorari due to the irreparable harm of a plaintiff trying to pursue categorically irrelevant discovery that could not reasonably lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Moreover, when parties know that there is a dispute, they have an obligation not to spoil (destroy or alter) relevant, critical evidence, specifically with electronically stored information. By not taking steps to preserve evidence, a party could be subject to discovery sanctions, the dreadful adverse inference jury instruction, or in worst-case scenarios, the striking of pleadings. Check out this article for more information on spoliation of evidence including the dreadful adverse inference jury instruction (that no party wants!).

Discovery is crucial fact-finding process in litigation to discover evidence in your case. It is also a tool used to authenticate certain evidence and/or lay the foundation for certain evidence.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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