Dodging the Spoliaton Bullet (NY)

In Shields v. First Avenue Builders, LLC, a New York County trial court refused to strike third-party defendant’s pleading after the party accidentally destroyed the evidence that it was ordered to preserve. In Shields, plaintiff alleged that he was injured while cleaning a concrete pump that was manufactured by defendant/third-party plaintiff Worthington’s predecessor in liability.   Third-party defendant MC & O was ordered to preserve the pump for a second inspection after plaintiff amended his bill of particulars to include additional allegations regarding the manufacture of the pump. MC &O, however, inexplicably destroyed the pump before the second inspection took place.

Several parties moved for a stricken pleading and sanctions against MC&O without explaining about how they would specifically be prejudiced by the pump’s destruction. In addition, prior to this motion’s decision, Worthington was granted summary judgment and dismissed from the case. The court, therefore, held that Worthington’s motion was rendered moot given its dismissal from the case. In addition, it held that the other party did not submit any evidence proving that the pump’s destruction was prejudicial to its case. Therefore, rather than striking the pleading, the court ordered that an adverse inference charge at trial as the appropriate sanction.

The lesson learned is that defendants must to take great care in preserving any property involved in an accident when court ordered to do so. A clear channel of communication must be established to ensure that property subject to a court order is preserved.  That said, defendants can have some faith the court will not just strike pleadings and order sanctions for any minor violation. Rather, the moving party must show that such spoliation was actually prejudicial.

Thanks to Alison Weintraub for the post.  If you have any questions, please contact Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com