The Suffolk County Supreme Court recently denied plaintiff’s motion seeking sanctions and an adverse inference against a defendant due to spoliation of a videotape of the subject incident in Fischetti v. Savnio’s Hideaway.
The claim arose in November 2014, from a slip and fall at defendant’s restaurant. Plaintiff, a patron, fell down the front steps while leaving the restaurant and fractured her shin and wrist. Plaintiff bought suit against defendant, restaurant, alleging that insufficient lighting and signage caused plaintiff falling down the steps.
At the time of plaintiff’s fall, the restaurant had 9 surveillance cameras situated around the premises, one of which captured the accident scene. Approximately 90 days post incident, plaintiff sent defendant a “notice letter” of the suit, and requested all information be forwarded to defendant’s insurance carrier.
During the course of discovery, plaintiff demanded disclosure of the video footage. Defendant was unable to provide the surveillance footage as their surveillance system, per its programming, automatically recorded over the incident after two weeks. Plaintiff then sought sanctions alleging that defendant negligently allowed for the destruction of the video.
The Court found that although the surveillance footage is highly relevant to plaintiff’s case, a defendant who destroys documents in good faith and pursuant to normal business practice should not be sanctioned unless the defendant is on notice that the evidence might be needed for future litigation. Here, there was insufficient notice, as by the time plaintiff put defendant on notice, the video had already been destroyed. The Court went on to state that the “notice letter” sent by plaintiff, was insufficient as it neither cites the subject video nor requests the video to be preserved.
The Court’s ruling demonstrates the necessity of not only being specific in your demand letters, but of moving as quickly as possible at the inception of a cause of action, to locate and preserve save any surveillance footage that may exist. Thanks to Patrick Burns for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.