Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing when a plaintiff’s duty to preserve evidence arises. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s duty to preserve evidence arises at the same time a defendant’s duty does, which is when the plaintiff reasonably anticipates litigation will be forthcoming.
The case presents an important issue for Maryland car accident victims in that it illustrates a plaintiff’s duty to preserve evidence, which, if not followed, can result in serious sanctions up to and including dismissal.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff’s husband was seriously injured when a tire on the vehicle he was driving blew out, sending the vehicle spinning out of control on the highway. Eventually, the vehicle came to a rest upside down, and the plaintiff’s husband was left unconscious as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.
The plaintiff’s husband remained unresponsive for several days but eventually woke up. When he did, the plaintiff informed him that his totaled vehicle was accruing storage charges. She also informed her husband that the owner of the storage yard offered not to charge the storage fees if the title was signed over to him. Her husband responded, “save the tires,” but he did not explain why.
The plaintiff told the storage yard owner to save the blown tire, which he did. Then, the plaintiff’s husband died from his injuries a short time later. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant tire manufacturer under a product liability theory.
The tire manufacturer argued that it should be entitled to a spoliation instruction because the three remaining tires were destroyed by the plaintiff’s mother prior to being inspected. The requested spoliation instruction would instruct the jury to make a negative inference from the fact that the plaintiff permitted the evidence to be destroyed.
The court, however, rejected the defendant’s request for the spoliation instruction. The court explained that such an instruction would only be appropriate if the plaintiff allowed for the destruction of evidence knowing that there may be an upcoming trial. Here, the court determined that the plaintiff did not know that litigation would be upcoming. The court also held that it was not unreasonable for the plaintiff not to have expected litigation to be upcoming. The court did acknowledge that the comment from her husband to “save the tires” may have indicated his desire to pursue litigation, but without more evidence indicating this was the case, the court was not willing to make the assumption.
Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have extensive experience assisting victims and their families with pursuing the compensation they deserve. We represent clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.
More Blog Posts:
Court Affirms Defense Verdict in Car Accident Case, Despite Defendant’s Admission, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published March 2, 2018.
Court Determines Insurance Adjuster May Have Obtained Favorable Settlement Through Undue Influence, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published March 19, 2018.