Eleventh Circuit finds that adverse inference is insufficient where owner allows vehicle to be sold for salvage in crashworthiness suit.

In Legal Ethics & Professionalism, What's New in E-Discovery and Spoliation?, What's New in Product Liability Law?, What's New in the Courts by gravierhouseLeave a Comment

Following an accident in 1996, the plaintiff sent a letter to Daimler Chrysler notifying it of the accident and of the airbag’s failure to deploy. Daimler Chrysler replied to the letter, requesting the location of the vehicle for inspection purposes. Flury’s counsel never responded to defendant’s letter. Around six months later, the vehicle was sold. In 2002, the plaintiff filed suit. Addressing the spoliation issue, the district court determined that, because Daimler Chrysler had several months to follow up on its request to inspect the vehicle, it shared some of the culpability and dismissal was not warranted. Instead, the court instructed the jury to apply a rebuttable presumption that the evidence not preserved was unfavorable to the party responsible for spoliation. Thus, if the jury found that Flury was responsible for spoliation before the defendant had an opportunity to inspect it, the jury should presume that the vehicle was not defective. The Eleventh Circuit reversed. The court initially concluded that the question of an appropriate sanction due to spoliation was a question of Federal Law. The court then determined that the adverse inference was not sufficient. While dismissal represents the most severe sanction, and therefore should only be exercised where there is a showing of bad faith and where lesser sanctions will not suffice, the court determined that: “No lesser sanction will suffice in this case. The record reveals that plaintiff knew the location and condition of the subject vehicle for a considerable amount of time following the accident. Moreover, plaintiff was fully aware that defendant wished to examine the vehicle. Knowing this, plaintiff ignored defendant’s request and allowed the vehicle to be sold for salvage without notification to defendant of its planned removal. Even absent defendant’s unambiguous request for its location, plaintiff should have known that the vehicle, which was the very subject of his lawsuit, needed to be preserved and examined as evidence central to his case. Plaintiff’s failure to preserve the vehicle resulted in extreme prejudice to the defendant, and failure to respond to defendant’s letter displayed a clear dereliction of duty.” Hence, the judgment was reversed and the case was dismissed. See Flury v. Daimler Chrysler, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 21515 (11th Cir. Oct. 5, 2005).

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