Employee Froman died in an on-the-job accident. Darling, one of the owners of the employer, threw away the equipment involved in the accident after being asked by an Indiana OSHA employee to keep it for inspection.
Froman’s estate filed suit against the employer; the suit included claims for negligent and intentional spoliation of evidence. The trial court refused to dismiss the claims for spoliation, the Court of Appeals affirmed, and the interlocutory appeal accepted by the Indiana Supreme Court.
The ISC reversed. It first noted that Indiana does not recognize an independent cause of action for spoliation against a party to the underlying claim (first-party spoliation) but had expressly left open the question of whether it would recognize an independent cause of action for third-party spoliation. (This sent a pretty strong signal about what was to happen next.)
The ISC then ordered dismissal of the case because the employer did not have a duty to preserve the evidence. The Court said that the request of IOSHA to preserve the evidence did not give rise to a duty to preserve the evidence for the benefit of the employee but only to IOSHA. The Court went on to say this:
"The disadvantages we identified in first-party spoliation claims remain concerns as to third-party claims. Proving damages in a third-party spoliation claim becomes highly speculative and involves a lawsuit in which the issue is the outcome of another hypothetical lawsuit. The jury must somehow find all the elements of a product liability case, immediately determining whether a product defect caused the injury, as opposed to inadequate maintenance, or other intervening events. The jury would be asked to determine what the damages would have been had the evidence been produced and what the collectibility of these damages would have been. We think this exercise often could properly be described as "guesswork.’"
The case is Glotzbach v. Froman, No. 45S03-0511-CV-579 (9/26/06). Read it here.
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