Spoliation Instruction Given

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled that a plaintiff who is injured in a slip and fall accident at a restaurant is entitled to a spoliation instruction if the restaurant, contrary to policy, did not prepare an accident report.

The Court re-affirmed existing law in the state which provided that “it was appropriate for a trial justice to give a spoliation instruction where a corporate defendant (1) failed to produce a document which the evidence tended to show was routinely generated by the corporation and (2) was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why the document was not prepared with respect to the incident in the case before the court.””

The dissenting justice said as follows: “In this case, no evidence whatsoever was introduced to explain how the liquid came to be on the floor, how long it had been there before Mrs. Mead fell, or whether the defendants had any actual or constructive notice of its presence. It is difficult to discern a factual predicate for the defendants’ liability other than by drawing an adverse inference from their failure to produce an accident report. A necessary precursor to the jury’s ability to draw such an adverse inference, however, was a determination that an accident report at one time existed. Lacking that factual predicate, the majority’s endorsement today of the trial justice’s instruction, in effect, commandeers the doctrine of spoliation to enforce, with severe consequences, a corporate policy of creating accident reports.”

The case is Mead v. Papa Razzi, No. 2004-317. Read the opinion here.