Failure to Preserve Slip/Fall Video Results in Stricken Answer

In Wagman v Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York Presbyterian, No. 160709/21, 2022-05622, 771, M-3778, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 05214, 2023 WL 6626886 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept., Oct. 12, 2023), the court unanimously affirmed the lower court’s Order granting plaintiff’s motion, pursuant to CPLR 3126, to strike defendants’ answer for spoliation of evidence.

In this case, the plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell in the 6th-flooor reception area of defendant hospital; the accident was captured on camera from two different angles. Defendants produced only a portion of the pre-accident footage.

In imposing sanctions, the court explained:

To support the extreme sanction of striking a pleading for spoliation, the movant must show that the evidence was crucial and discarded in bad faith or, in the case of ordinary negligence, that the missing evidence, the sole means of pursuing or defending the claim or defense, was otherwise fatally compromised by the spoliation, or the claimant or defendant had become prejudicially bereft of being able to pursue its claim or defend against one.

Here, although plaintiffs took all steps available to preserve the video footage of the accident, including requesting within days of the slip and fall that defendants preserve the 48 hours of footage prior to the accident, defendants failed to preserve the pre-accident footage. The record reflects that defendants received plaintiffs’ preservation letter and had preserved the footage. Defendants, however, only provided plaintiffs with video footage showing the approximately 12 seconds prior to plaintiff’s slip and fall and failed to explain what happened to the other pre-accident footage.

Although defendants did not raise the issue of prejudice below, we may consider a legal argument that appears on the face of the record and could not have been avoided if it had been raised. Nevertheless, the footage from the period before plaintiff’s slip and fall was crucial to plaintiffs’ proof of notice. It would have shown the origin of the substance plaintiff allegedly slipped on, and how long the condition existed. Thus, the court providently exercised its discretion in granting plaintiffs’ motion to strike defendants’ answer for spoliation of evidence.

[Cleaned up.]

The court concluded by adding that, contrary to defendants’ argument, “pleadings may be struck for spoliation in the absence of court-ordered discovery.”
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