Earlier this month, a Georgia appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case brought by the wife of a man who died when one of the tires on his Ford Explorer blew out on the highway. In the case, Cooper Rubber & Tire v. Koch, the court had to determine if the plaintiff’s destruction of potentially relevant physical evidence before trial should result in her being prohibited from admitting the blown-out tire into evidence. Ultimately, the court determined that at the time the plaintiff destroyed the evidence, litigation was not foreseeable, and thus a duty to preserve the evidence did not exist.
The Facts of the Case
Mr. Koch was involved in an accident while driving on Interstate 16 after one of his tires blew out. While Mr. Koch was hospitalized and in intensive care, the towing company that removed his totaled vehicle from the scene of the accident told his wife that they were incurring a daily storage fee for the vehicle. Mrs. Koch told her husband of the offer, and the two agreed to sign the title over to the towing company to satisfy her debt. Mr. Koch told his wife to make sure that the towing company “saves the tires.” However, the towing company only saved the blown out tire and discarded the three other tires, all four wheels, and the rest of the vehicle.
A few months later, Mr. Koch died while still in the hospital. Shortly after her husband’s death, Mrs. Koch filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cooper Rubber & Tire, the manufacturer of the blown-out tire.