Plaintiff’s Pre-Trial Destruction of Evidence in Product Liability Case Does Not Result in Sanctions

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.

When the defendant manufacturer realized that the remaining tires and all four wheels had been discarded, it asked the court to impose sanctions on Mrs. Koch. Specifically, the manufacturer wanted to prevent her from entering the blown-out tire into evidence. However, the trial court denied this motion, and the defendant immediately appealed.

On appeal, the court agreed with the trial court, finding that sanctions were not appropriate because Mrs. Koch was not under a duty to preserve the evidence. The court explained that the duty to preserve evidence only arises when litigation is reasonably foreseeable, and the destruction of the evidence was in anticipation of the litigation. Here, the court found that when Mrs. Koch allowed the towing company to destroy the evidence, she was not contemplating filing a lawsuit and thus was not under any duty to preserve the evidence.

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. However, depending on the circumstances of the accident, you may be under a duty to preserve certain physical evidence. Additionally, it may be in your best interest to visit specific medical specialists, as well as gather certain evidence. A dedicated personal injury attorney can assist you in preparing your case so that you have a strong case for compensation. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney.

More Blog Posts:

Court Allows Plaintiff’s Bad-Faith Claim Against Insurance Company to Proceed, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published December 2, 2016.

Head-On Collisions on Maryland Roads May Increase as Winter Approaches, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published December 9, 2016.

Contact Information