Plaintiffs Awarded Summary Judgment Due to Evidence Spoliation in Personal Injury Case

InĀ Biniachvili v. Yeshivat Shaare Torah, Inc., the Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed summary judgment for plaintiffs in their personal injury case due to the defendant’s disposal of a grate that allegedly caused injury. This, the court held, amounted to spoliation of evidence.

The facts:

On May 22, 2009, the infant plaintiffs …, along with approximately 30 other students of the defendant Yeshivat Shaare Torah, Inc. …, were directed by their teachers to stand on an exterior grate located on the school’s premises for a class picture. The grate gave way, causing the students to plunge 11 feet down the shaft onto the concrete slab below. When the plaintiffs’ experts arrived at the school on the agreed-upon date of July 23, 2009, to inspect the grate, the defendant informed them that the grate was not available. By letter dated November 3, 2009, in response to several inquiries made by the plaintiffs, the defendant advised that the grate had been removed from the school and disposed of on June 18, 2009.

The law:

Under the common-law doctrine of spoliation, when a party negligently loses or intentionally destroys key evidence, that party may be sanctioned under CPLR 3126. Since the Supreme Court has broad discretion in determining what, if any, sanction should be imposed for spoliation of evidence, it may, under appropriate circumstances, impose a sanction even if the destruction occurred through negligence rather than wilfulness, and even if the evidence was destroyed before the spoliator became a party, provided the spoliator was on notice that the evidence might be needed for future litigation.

The court concluded:

Here, the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in striking the defendant’s answers and thereupon awarding the plaintiffs summary judgment on the issue of liability pursuant to CPLR 3126. The record demonstrates that the defendant disposed of the grate involved in the accident after having received a written demand from one of the infant plaintiff’s attorneys that the grate be preserved for inspection by the plaintiffs and their experts. Moreover, the plaintiffs demonstrated that they were unduly prejudiced by the defendant’s conduct in disposing of the grate.

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