In the recent case of Reynolds v. Bordelon, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that while spoliation of evidence is not a tort claim, plaintiff in the injury lawsuit may have other forms of remedy.
Plaintiff alleged spoliation when, after a serious car accident, his motor vehicle was not preserved for analysis connected to the personal injury litigation – even after he notified both his insurance company and the maker of the vehicle that he intended to file.
Spoliation, also sometimes referred to as “destruction of evidence,” is a cause of action which alleges someone is liable for negligently or intentionally destroying material that is needed as evidence in litigation.
Florida recognizes spoliation as a tort, sometimes referred to as “negligent failure to preserve evidence.” Most of these cases are brought against insurance companies on the basis of duty imposed under the insurance contract. In the early-1990s Florida case of Miller v. Allstate Insurance Company, the court held this type of claim must have the following elements:
- Existence of a possible civil lawsuit
- A duty (either contractual or legal) to preserve evidence relative to that civil lawsuit
- Destruction of pertinent evidence
- Significant hindrance in the ability to prove the lawsuit
- A causal relationship between destruction of evidence and inability to prove the claim
The Miller case contained many of the same facts as the Reynolds car accident case. In Miller, the insurer promised to preserve insured’s vehicle for use in a claim against manufacturer. But when the vehicle was destroyed, insured had a valid cause of action against insurer.
In Reynolds, the issue was allegedly defective airbags. According to court records, plaintiff was involved in a multi-vehicle accident and sustained serious injuries.
Subsequently, plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the purportedly at-fault driver of the crash.
Additionally, as part of that litigation, plaintiff asserted claims under the state’s products liability act against the car manufacturer and distributor, He alleged the airbag’s failure to deploy was the result of a defect and caused his injuries to be exacerbated.
In addition to suing the manufacturer/distributor, plaintiff named his insurance company, which was the custodian of his vehicle post-crash.
Although he notified the company of his intention to file a products liability case, the insurance company and an auto auction firm did not preserve the vehicle for inspection. As a result, plaintiff was deprived of the ability to have the vehicle examined for potential defects.
Defendant insurer and auction firm said there was no evidence of intentional destruction of evidence, as noted in state statute.
Defendants also filed motions for summary judgment based on appellate court opinions that stated negligent spoliation of evidence as a tort was rejected.
The state supreme court ultimately agreed to review the case to offer a definitive rule on the viability of a claim for negligent spoliation of evidence. The court ruled there is not one.
Still, plaintiffs aren’t necessarily without option, as there could still be a claim brought under the state’s breach of contract laws.
There is also the potential for the trial court to grant certain penalties – such as a finding of liability that disfavors the party found responsible for spoliation.
This ruling does not affect Florida courts, which will still recognize this as its own cause of action.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Reynolds v. Bordelon, June 30, 2015, Louisiana Supreme Court
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Lopez v. U.S. – Injury Crash Involving Postal Worker, July 2, 2015, Fort Myers Accident Attorney Blog