By Lauren White, RCS Reporter.
Recently, clarification was provided concerning “...potential liability that can result from discarding materials that could be used as evidence in a lawsuit,” according to Cotney Construction Law. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals supplied this information, which came to light from the Shamrock-Shamrock, Inc. v. Remark, case.
In this case, the City of Daytona Beach and its planning board were sued by a land developer for, “...denying a rezoning petition, allegedly for the city’s own gain,” Cotney Law explains. The land developer, “...sought discovery from a member of the planning board, Tracey Remark,” reveals Cotney Law. During her deposition, Tracey testified that her old computer had been destroyed and her records hadn’t been backed up for the three months before and six months after the land developer started asking for her deposition.
The land developer sued Tracey after her deposition for “destroying potential evidence in the lawsuit against the city,” according to Cotney Law. There was not a full trial, but the trial court entered summary judgment and ruled in Tracey’s favor. The Fifth District Court of Appeals confirmed the ruling.
“The court explained that where a party to the lawsuit destroys evidence, the party who is seeking the discovery cannot assert a separate claim based solely on the destruction of the evidence,” Cotney Law shares. The party seeking discovery can ask for a jury instruction, which are rules or guidelines read to the jury by the judge concerning the law of the case. If that happens, it’s plausible the jury would conclude that the evidence is damaging to the destroying party.
Cotney Law reveals, “...The discovery-seeking party might be able to successfully assert a claim against the destroying party…,” if a non-party to the lawsuit destroys the evidence. Cotney Law presents the following six criteria which need to be met in order for this to happen:
Existence of a potential civil action
A legal or contractual duty to preserve evidence which is relevant to the potential civil action
Destruction of that evidence
Significant impairment in the ability to prove the lawsuit
A causal relationship between the evidence destruction and the inability to prove the lawsuit
Because Tracey didn’t have a, “...legal or contractual duty to preserve the materials destroyed (i.e., her computer and records),” Cotney Law explains, the land developer wasn’t able to prove a spoliation (abuse) of evidence claim against Tracey. Seeing as the land developer’s lawsuit was not predictable, and Tracey didn’t have knowledge of the lawsuit, there was not enough reason to impose on Tracey a legal or contractual obligation to preserve any evidence.
If you have questions regarding spoliation of evidence, contact a construction attorney at Cotney Construction Law.
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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.