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Monday, July 11, 2005
Bloglines - Florida Supreme Court: Spoliation
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Abstract Appeal The First Web Log Devoted To Florida Law and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
A Wal-mart customer claimed to have had her arm injured when, at a checkout employee's request, she placed a 40-pound bag of salt in the child-seat portion of her shopping cart. The cart collapsed. She filled out an incident report and told the store's manager where she left the cart in the parking lot. Two and a half years later, the customer sued Wal-mart. She claimed the store was negligent in how it maintained the cart prior to her use of it and in how it trained the cashier. She also claimed that Wal-mart should be liable for spoliating evidence because it had not kept the shopping cart or surveillance video of the incident.
In 2003, the Fourth District addressed this case and held that no independent claim for spoliation exists where a defendant in a case is alleged to have lost or destroyed something that may have been unfavorable evidence against that defendant. Spoliation in this first-party sense can be addressed by the trial court through sanctions or presumptions utilized at trial.
The Fourth District also held that, while no independent spoliation claim existed, Wal-mart's loss of the cart and tape could give rise to an adverse inference that the materials were unfavorable and, based on this evidence, the customer's negligent maintenance claim should have gone to a jury. In reviewing the case, the Florida Supreme Court declined to address this issue, though Justice Wells authored a concurrence lamenting that declination and encouraging the court to make clear what duties Florida citizens have to maintain materials that might later be used in lawsuits against them. He explained:
This is an exceedingly important issue which should be confronted by this Court. Businesses as well as individuals must have regular record and property disposition policies. Obviously, storage space, both in warehouses and in computers, have finite limits. Practically, what was Wal-Mart to do when it was notified by Martino in March 1997? Was Wal-Mart to take the cart out of service? Was Wal-Mart to store the cart? How many warehouses would it take to store all of the property involved for the four-year statute of limitations period when Wal-Mart receives a notice of a possible claim?