Gilchrist v. City of New York, decided on March 7, 2013, contains an important lesson for plaintiffs’ lawyers in personal injury cases: wherever possible, make sure to specifically request that certain pieces of evidence be preserved. Here, the defendants’ failure to preserve such specifically requested evidence resulted in sanctions for spoliation of evidence.
In this personal injury lawsuit, plaintiff claimed that she sustained injuries after falling from a chair. The Appellate Division, First Department reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint, and precluded defendant from offering any evidence at trial as to the chair’s condition, because defendant failed to preserve the chair as requested by the plaintiff in her Notice of Claim:
The trial court should have imposed the sanction of an adverse inference charge because the chair was not the sole means to establish plaintiff’s claim. … Further, the court should have precluded defendant from offering any evidence at trial as to the chair’s condition. Plaintiff’s notice of claim specifically requested preservation of the chair, and defendants’ failure to preserve it constitutes spoliation. Plaintiff’s testimony that the chair was not broken would not have precluded an expert from finding a latent defect upon examination during the discovery process. Spoliation of the chair prevented the plaintiff from providing incisive evidence. Plaintiff’s testimony adduced at trial could have allowed a jury to find that a defective condition or an improper use of the chair caused her accident and resulting injury. As such, an adverse inference charge along with the preclusion against defendant is a reasonable sanction considering the prejudice to the plaintiff. (Emphasis added.)
The court ultimately held that triable issues of fact existed as to “whether defendant provided an inappropriate chair with wheels on a slippery floor.”