SW Legal Educational Publishing

Tort of Spoilation of Evidence Elements Established
Description The Alabama high court held that a suit claiming negligence for allowing evidence to be lost before it was possible to litigate could proceed. An injured motorist sued an insurance adjuster who allowed a wrecked car, that might be critical evidence in a product defect suit against the maker, to be destroyed before it could be used as evidence.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Spoilation of Evidence
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Smiths were involved in a serious accident involving their Chrysler minivan. Metro, the Smith's insurer, had Atkinson, a claims adjuster, handle the claim. Smith told Atkinson that he was going to sue Chrysler for safety defects in the van. Atkinson agreed to keep the van for evidence at the Metro storage facility, but allowed the van to be destroyed before it could be inspected for evidence. The Smiths sued Atkinson and Metro in tort for negligently allowing spoilation of evidence. The issue before the Alabama high court was what would be needed to establish such a tort.
Decision As with any tort in negligence, the plaintiff must show that defendant breached a duty and that the breach was the proximate cause of the losses suffered. Here, plaintiff must also show that the defendant had actual knowledge of possible litigation; that a duty was imposed on the defendant through a voluntary undertaking, agreement or specific request; and must show that the missing evidence was vital to the plaintiff's possible litigation. If those elements are established, then the plaintiff has presented a rebuttable presumption that plaintiff might have recovered but for the spoilation of the evidence by the defendant.
Citation Smith V. Atkinson, 2000 WL 127181 (Sup. Ct., Ala.)

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