The Spoliation Rule: A Party’s Duty to Preserve Evidence That May Be Relevant to an Upcoming Trial

One can easily imagine a world in which a defendant fearful of an upcoming lawsuit destroys internal company documents that the defendant knows may be harmful to its case. This fear of the destruction of evidence in anticipation of litigation gave rise to the doctrine of spoliation. Essentially, the doctrine of spoliation allows for a judge to impose sanctions on a party if they destroy or alter relevant evidence in anticipation of an upcoming case.

TireThere are several sanctions available to a court when it finds that a party has engaged in spoliation. Most commonly, the judge will prevent certain evidence from being admitted. Alternatively, the judge may provide the jury with an instruction regarding the missing evidence and how, if preserved, it would likely disfavor the party that was responsible for its destruction. Moreover, in some extreme circumstances, a court can enter judgment against the spoliating party.

Not all pre-trial destruction of evidence, however, will be considered a violation of the spoliation doctrine. As a recent case illustrates, sometimes a party destroys evidence without thinking about an upcoming case.

Cooper Tire & Rubber v. Koch:  The Facts

Mr. Koch was seriously injured when a tire on his 2000 Ford Explorer blew out while driving on the highway. He remained in intensive care until he passed away a few months later. While he was in the hospital, the towing company that had removed his vehicle from the scene of the accident contacted his wife, Mrs. Koch, to tell her that she was being charged a daily storage fee. Rather than continue to pay the fee, Mrs. Koch signed the title of the totaled vehicle over to the towing company so that it could be sold for salvage. At her husband’s request, Mrs. Koch asked that the tires from the vehicle be saved.

The towing company saved the one blown-out tire, but the other three tires as well as all four wheels were discarded. When the defendant tire manufacturer found this out, it petitioned the court to impose sanctions against Mrs. Koch. Specifically, the defendant asked the court to keep the blown-out tire out of evidence.

The court declined to impose sanctions against Mrs. Koch. The court determined that Mrs. Koch was not anticipating an upcoming lawsuit when she allowed the car to be sold for scrap. The court explained that it is only when an upcoming lawsuit is reasonably foreseeable that a party has a duty to preserve evidence.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a New Mexico car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as the discussion above illustrates, accident victims occasionally have obligations that they must fulfill, or their right to recovery can be negatively affected. The skilled New Mexico personal injury attorneys at the Fine Law Firm have decades of collective experience representing accident victims and know how to ensure that their clients’ cases proceed smoothly through the trial process, maximizing their chance of success. Call 505-889-FINE to set up a free consultation to discuss your case today.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Affirms Trial Judge’s Decision to Dismiss Case Due to Violation of Statute of Limitations, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 3, 2017.

State Supreme Court Partially Reverses Judgment in Personal Injury Case Involving Claims of Governmental Immunity, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 1, 2016.