The Supreme Court of Connecticut recently determined that a cause of action exists for intentional spoliation of evidence.
Plaintiff was hurt in a ladder incident (it collapsed), filed suit, and repeated asked the defendant to preserve the ladder and requested the opportunity to inspect it. Defendant’s expert examined the ladder, found it not to be defective, and then destroyed it. Plaintiff amended his complaint to allege intentional spoliation of evidence as an independent tort.
The Court said that "[d]estroying evidence can destroy fairness and justice, for it increases the risk of an erroneous decision on the merits of the underlying cause of action. Destroying evidence can also increase the costs of litigation as parties attempt to reconstruct the destroyed evidence
or to develop other evidence, which may be less accessible, less persuasive, or both." The Court concluded that "the existing nontort remedies are insufficient to compensate victims of spoliation and to deter future spoliation when a first party defendant destroys evidence intentionally with the purpose and effect of precluding a plaintiff from fulfilling his burden of production in a pending or impending case. We therefore conclude that the recognition of an independent cause of action for spoliation of evidence is necessary to fulfill the public policy goals of the tort compensation system."
The Court established these elements for the new cause of action: "(1) the defendant’s knowledge
of a pending or impending civil action involving the plaintiff; (2) the defendant’s destruction of evidence; (3) in bad faith, that is, with intent to deprive the plaintiff of his cause of action; (4) the plaintiff’s inability to establish a prima facie case without the spoliated evidence; and (5) damages.
The Court went on to explain that "[t]o establish proximate causation, the plaintiff must prove that the defendants’ intentional, bad faith destruction of evidence rendered the plaintiff unable to establish a prima facie case in the underlying litigation. … Once the plaintiff satisfies this burden, ‘there arises a rebuttable presumption that but for the fact of the spoliation of evidence the plaintiff would have recovered in the pending or potential litigation . . . .’"
Finally, on the issue of damages, the Court said that "[t]estore a victim of intentional spoliation
of evidence to the position he or she would have been in if the spoliation had not occurred, the plaintiff is entitled to recover the full amount of compensatory damages that he or she would have received if the underlying action had been pursued successfully."
The case is Rizzuto v. Davidson Ladders, Inc., S.C. 17310 ( Conn. 10/3/2006). Read the opinion here.