Destroying Evidence May Result in Sanctions Including a Judge Entering Judgment in Favor of Opposing Party

Whenever someone is involved in an accident, certain duties are triggered. One of those duties is to preserve any evidence that may become useful to the opposing party in the event that a lawsuit is later filed by the accident victim. A party’s failure to preserve material evidence can result in a variety of sanctions being imposed against that party, including the judge entering judgment in favor of the opposing party. A recent case in front of a federal court of appeals illustrates this concept.

ScaffoldingSchaefer v. Universal Scaffolding:  The Facts

The plaintiff, Schaefer, was a construction worker who routinely worked with scaffolding. On the day in question, a piece of scaffolding came loose and struck Schaefer in the head, causing serious injuries. Schaefer filed a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the scaffolding, as well as related claims against his own employer as well as the company that contracted the work to be done. Relevant to this case was Schaefer’s claim against the manufacturer of the scaffolding.

Before the trial began, Schaefer was informed that the actual piece of scaffolding that struck him in the head was no longer in the possession of the defendant. Believing this evidence to be crucial to his case, Schaefer asked the court to enter judgment in his favor because the evidence had been in the sole control of the defendant, and it was their duty to preserve it. Schaefer claimed that it was reasonably foreseeable that he would have filed a product liability claim against the manufacturer, and that triggered a duty to preserve the evidence.

The trial court, however, disagreed with Schaefer and denied his request. Instead, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, holding that Schaefer failed to show that he would have been successful at trial had the evidence been preserved and admitted into evidence. Schaefer appealed.

On appeal, Schaefer reiterated his arguments below and added that the lower court applied the wrong standard to his spoliation claim. The appellate court agreed, holding that the lower court was mistaken to require Schaefer to show that he would have been successful had the evidence been persevered. Instead, the court held, the proper standard was that Schaefer needed to show that he had a “reasonable probability” of success had the missing evidence been presented to the court. As a result, Schaefer’s case was sent back to the lower court for that court to determine if Schaefer presented sufficient evidence to substantiate his claim of spoliation under the proper standard.

Have You Been Injured in an Indiana Personal Injury Accident?

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Related Posts:

Court Finds At-Fault Driver’s Employer Not Liable Under Vicarious Liability Theory, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, October 12, 2016

Woman Recovers $1.3 Million from Supermarket After Being Struck by Grocery Cart, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, October 17, 2016